As more states go green, enjoying unprecedented access to decriminalized cannabis, it can be easy to forget the legion of outspoken voices that have publicly battled to get us to this encouraging point. Activists in a multitude of realms continue to dig in and fight for those in the U.S. who are still under the threat of arrest or imprisonment for simple possession of a plant that can be therapeutic and recreational. They oppose a system that doesn’t care about people—or worse, profits from their pain. So today we’re raising a big spliff to a handful of critical cannabis activists you should be familiar with. They are generals leading the charge for legalization, justice reform and widespread access to the herb that we love. Giving them our support is the surest path to victory.
Who: Steve DeAngelo
What: CEO, Harborside; Co-founder, Steep Hill Labs; President, ArcView Group; Author, the Cannabis Manifesto: A New Paradigm for Wellness
How: With over 40 years of activism and open support for the therapeutic virtues of the plant, DeAngelo may be the most widely recognized of modern canna-campaigners. Harborside is the world’s largest dispensary and a lynchpin in the fight for safe access to lab-tested medical marijuana for a range of income groups. From creating his own concentrate to raising the bar for dispensary standards, DeAngelo remains a crucial force in advocacy and activism.
Who: Dr. Sanjay Gupta
What: Chief Medical Correspondent, CNN, a.k.a. the guy who got your mom to try edibles.
How: Gupta lends his medical expertise and public credibility to advocate for safe access for cannabis patients in a variety of telecast programs and published editorials, acknowledging the efficacy of cannabis as a potential pain treatment for millions. The good doctor, once an outspoken foe to marijuana legalization, apologized for his past maligning of the herb, and is striving to change national perceptions. He even recently penned an open letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions telling the guy to stop being such a dick. Essentially.
Who: Dina Browner
What: Proprietor, Alternative Herbal Health Services; Founder, Freedom Grow; rumored to be the inspiration for Nancy Botwin’s character on Weeds.
How: Dr. Dina, as she’s known, helped launch L.A.’s first medical cannabis physician’s office, with additional locations helping to further patient access, spurred by a friend’s cancer diagnosis and positive reception to cannabis. She even got Snoop Dogg, who originally introduced her to herb, his first medical rec. Dina’s public advocacy for marijuana as a safe and necessary medicine takes her everywhere from your mom’s morning news show to Vice’s show Most Expensivest Shit with 2 Chainz. In 2015, Dina also launched Freedom Grow (http://www.freedomgrow.org/), which is committed to raising funds for and helping liberate those who have been incarcerated for cannabis.
Who: Cory Booker
What: U.S. Senator, New Jersey; Future President of the United States, hopefully.
How: Booker, along with California Rep. Barbara Lee, introduced two bills in Congress calling for an end to marijuana prohibition. The legislation would remove cannabis from the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, pave the way for resentencing of marijuana crimes, address racial disparities in drug sentencing, expunge federal convictions for possession-specific offenses, and create a community reinvestment fund for areas affected by the botched War on Drugs, among other things. In an era where many officials are honest about the failure of the War on Drugs, Booker is the rare politician who understands the urgency of the problem and is not afraid to speak up.
Who: Kyle Turley
What: Veteran NFL offensive lineman; Founder, Gridiron Cannabis Foundation
How: Turley’s non-profit organization advocates for cannabis as a safe, effective therapy for current and former NFL players who have been physically and/or mentally traumatized on the field, in an effort to convince a heretofore resistant Roger Goodell to sanction its use. Its aim is to explore safe and legal medical treatments for NFL vets for a variety of football-related ailments like chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), brain cancer and Parkinson’s, with the eventual goal of starting a neurological research facility. Doing similar work, an organization named When the Bright Lights Fade has a comparable mission and enjoys support from players past and present.
Who: Ethan Nadelmann
What: Founder, Drug Policy Alliance
How: Arguably the biggest force in pushing to enact and shape some of the country’s most progressive drug policy and criminal justice reforms, the Drug Policy Alliance helped pass Prop. 64 in California (love it or hate it), with Nadelmann at the forefront as a relentless, outspoken veteran of the War on Drugs. The organization has also been acknowledged for pushing the industry to be more inclusive of minorities, women and others who helped pave the way to legalization.
Who: Tom Angell
What: Chairman and founder of cannabis advocacy non-profit Marijuana Majority; Journalist and Editor, Marijuana Moment newsletter.
How: Angell tenaciously reports on complex, up-to-the-minute nationwide and regional policy developments, including incoming threats to existing cannabis protections and opportunities for political action. A dogged champion of access, one of Angell’s successful objectives has been to shine light on the widespread acceptance cannabis has attained among the U.S. public, in opposition to the widespread disinformation and propaganda campaign that keeps it a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
Who: Rick Steves
What: The lovably nerdy travel expert from PBS.
How: A fierce advocate for decriminalization who sits on the board of NORML, Steves doesn’t even use cannabis himself. But having seen the world first-hand, he supports a more European approach to cannabis laws that doesn’t throw people’s lives away for mere possession of a “soft” drug. Today, he uses his very visible platform to fight marijuana prohibition and push for drug policy reform, penning editorials, giving speeches, and shooting series about cannabis prohibition. He even recently proposed a European itinerary to bring Jeff Sessions over to tour safe, responsible sites thriving from decriminalization.
Who: Jane West and Jazmin Hupp
What: Founders, Women Grow
How: West and Hupp’s Denver-born Women Grow is said to be the industry’s largest cannabis networking organization. Eyeing the end of pot prohibition, the networking, speaking events and educational programs it organizes across North America seek to encourage, instruct and empower female ganjapreneurs (and male entrepreneurs committed to inclusivity) in over 30 U.S. and Canadian cities. Uniting various satellites as a combined force, Women Grow strives to ensure women their well-deserved place in the green rush.
Who: Bill Maher
What: Stand-up comedian; Host, Real Time with Bill Maher
How: They may not have name a strain for him like his friends Woody or Willie. He hasn’t done time for the cause like Tommy Chong. And he’s not nearly as omnipresent as Snoop (who is?). But he does make stoners look deadly smart in front of millions of viewers each week, refuting the popular misconception of the slow, out-of-touch pothead. Maher’s platform is continually offered to alternative voices in the world of medicine, justice and social reform, giving a premium cable audience to advocates against racist institutions, corporate medicine and insane drug and sentencing laws. An outspoken, longtime donor and supporter of NORML and other anti-prohibition causes, he’s also the only person we’ve seen spark a joint up on live TV.