Honoring the Legacy of Michigan Advocate Zahra Abbas

The Michigan cannabis community has lost a great advocate among its ranks recently.
Zahra
Courtesy of Cannabis Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party via Detroit Metro Times

The cannabis community suffers great losses in the passing of its community members, but today it is with great regret that we report the passing of Michigan cannabis advocate and political activist, Zahra Abbas, who was 35 years old.

The Cannabis Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party for which she held the position of Chair announced her passing on July 28. “Without Zahra the Cannabis Caucus would not be what it is today and the world is a lonelier place without her presence,” the Caucus wrote online. “Our deepest condolences to her family and friends. We know she touched many all across this great state and beyond.”

Abbas was a prominent figure advocating for cannabis as a patient herself, and sought to spread the word about cannabis and its medical benefits. “Zahra was dedicated to teaching the world about the health benefits of cannabis and helping lead the progressive movement action to remedy the catastrophic consequences of the war on drugs,” the post continued. “Zahra was frequently failed by our healthcare system and cannabis prohibition that would at times deny her the only medicine that could bring her seizures under control.”

Detroit’s Metro Times reported on Zahra’s passing, describing an interview they conducted with her in 2017. At the time, she suffered from daily seizures that were not solved through brain surgery or prescription medication—but cannabis was a game changer for her.

“As soon as I started it, within a few days my seizures stopped,” Abbas told Metro Times in 2017. “Before I started looking into it for epilepsy I was very much against marijuana because there was so much misinformation around it. It came to the choice between using that and having another brain surgery to control my seizures. … Turning to cannabis was kind of my last resort.”

She volunteered to gather signatures for the legalization ballot that appeared before voters in 2018, in hopes that others could utilize cannabis just as she did. “I’m doing this because I think more people should have access to cannabis because it helps all people,” she told Metro Times. “It should be everybody’s right to use it,” she added.

But her journey into the cannabis industry had only just begun. Her advocacy grew, and she later became Vice Chair and, later, Chair of the Cannabis Caucus, and also Vice president of the Detroit chapter of Motor City NORML. She had an instrumental role in commuting the sentence of Michael Thompson, a man convicted of a cannabis crime who had survived 60 years in prison.

Fellow advocate Jamie Lowell told Metro Times that at one point, Abbas had to quit cannabis in order to pass a drug test for a new job, but her seizures returned. “She soon had a major seizure and vowed to not quit again for anything,” Lowell said. “After resuming, she was again seizure-free. This was her powerful and amazing testimony.”

Speakers at a rally featuring Sen. Bernie Sanders, which was held in Pontiac, Michigan on July 29, took a moment to honor Abbas’s memory. Rep. Rashida Tlaib called Abbas “an incredible warrior.” “Her heart was full of love for community, and there wasn’t a cause that she did not take on … 100%,” Tlaib said. “She was one of our biggest advocates for health care and access to alternative approaches, including cannabis … and she never gave up the fight. She will be sorely missed. I know that she is with us today.”

Also present was Dr. Abdul El-Sayeda who previously ran for Michigan governor in 2018, whose spoke about Abbas’s selfless dedication to the cause. “She took her pain and she used it to bring people together, to fight for all of the things that she herself was denied, recognizing that it could have been anyone else,” El-Sayeda said. “She took that pain and decided to make the world that much better.”

“Zahra didn’t have very much time, but Zahra put all of herself into the time she had,” he added.

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