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The Super Heroes Of The Cannabis Industry

Jun 15, 2017 • 12:36 AM EDT
7 MIN READ  •  By Michael Berger
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Derek Thomas – Political Analyst

Marijuana legalization is a reality for so many Americans now. We have come far, and are closer than ever before to federally legal marijuana. It’s a vastly shared sentiment that we are years away from federal legalization and there is nothing that can stop the tidewater.

Weed legalization is now an American reality. What we are witnessing now is merely the tipping point, coming after decades of foundational work by legalization advocates that didn’t always see a light at the end of the tunnel. Here are some of the heroes of the pro-cannabis movement whose pioneering work shaped the shift we are seeing today.

Dr. Lester Grinspoon

Dr. Lester Grinspoon, before becoming an outspoken and powerful voice for cannabis, was convinced that it was a terrible drug ripping apart society. Dr. Grinspoon even once said in an interview that “I had been brainwashed like just about every other citizen in this country.” During his initial research in the severity of weed’s dangers, he discovered its awesomeness instead. Unlike most prohibitionists, Lester had the moral fortitude and open mind necessary to have the courage to change his views. His research formed the basis for his influential 1971 book Marihuana Reconsidered, which scientifically explains the effects and benefits of cannabis, as well as an outline for legalization. Its rumored that Dr. Grinspoon even got to smoke weed with Carl Sagan!

Lynne Lyman

While Californians were celebrating their state’s recent marijuana legalization accomplishment, Lynne Lyman’s work is just getting started. She’s the California state director of the non-profit organization Drug Policy Alliance: “The leading organization advancing drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health, and human rights.”

Lyman’s work under the Drug Policy Alliance has not only been crucial to California’s marijuana laws, but other states have often looked to California to craft their own marijuana legislation. Lyman often reminds people that “We always say November 8th wasn’t the end, it was the beginning. Often policy makers forget to think abou the implementation piece and sometimes that’s the most important piece. If you pass a law and it doesn’t get implemented, then it’s as if it didn’t pass.”

Along with working to fund cannabis research, Lyman’s biggest passion is making marijuana and marijuana-advocacy communities more inclusive, especially by creating space for those who were a vital part of the industry before it was sanctioned by mainstream society. As Lyman puts it: “You’re walking in today to this whole nice legal world where everybody can wear a name tag that says they’re with some cannabis association, whereas five years ago even, people were still doing federal time for having a dispensary”. She continues by saying “The advice I give to all of the people who come into the cannabis industry is understand the history. There’s the sense that people are just waltzing in as if it’s just any other industry. I want to discourage that and remind that a lot of people have died, people have been incarcerated, they’ve had their families destroyed. Making sure you’re a good neighbor, and you’re working with the community that you are based in.”

Valerie Corral

Medical marijuana would not be a thing in America without Valerie Corral. She challenged California law, and achieved one of the first major wins for medical marijuana in the history of the United States. With the assistance of her husband Mike, Corral treated her epilepsy with cannabis for several years before being arrested twice for cultivating plants. The state refused to prosecute the Corrals both times, but the incident put them at the center of a newly forming push toward medical legalization in California, culminating in the passage of Prop 215. She formed Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana, the country’s first caregiver co-op, which continues to function today.

Brownie May

‘Compassion’ has become a major buzzword in medical marijuana efforts. The relief that cannabis can bring to severely ill patients, to many, makes the laws restricting them seem cruel and unjust. The highly publicized story of Brownie Mary was one of the first to inspire this sentiment. As a hospital volunteer, she distributed weed brownies to AIDS patients on the low. Wouldn’t you know it; the public was on her side when she got busted for it. Who can get mad at a sweet old lady giving brownies to sick people? Brownie Mary spent most of her life dedicated to charity work, and was instrumental in the passage of California’s Prop P and Prop 215. 

Tom Forcade

High Times Magazine plays a significant role in the current legalization movement, most ostensibly by hosting America’s first fully legal Cannabis Cup events in Denver. But the publication’s role in activism dates back to its establishment by underground journalist Tom Forcade, a prominent agitator who pioneered pieing as a form of protest. The magazine espoused the medical value of weed and the foolhardiness of the drug war. Though it has evolved over the four decades of its publication, High Times has remained a mainstream venue featuring indispensable celebrity support and enthusiasm for cannabis. 

Keith Stroup

In many ways, the NORML was the first credible, organized effort to legalize weed in America. Keith Stroup established the organization in 1970 and led the legalization movement to some of its first significant victories. When he stepped down from his second stint as NORML’s executive director in 2004, he listed some of these victories: “All 50 states have reduced penalties for minor marijuana offenses from a felony to a misdemeanor; 12 states have decriminalized minor marijuana offenses; 10 states have legalized the medical use of marijuana for serious ill patients.” The momentum sparked during Stroup’s tenure has reached a fever pitch, more than doubling the number of medical marijuana states in less than a decade. 

Charlo Greene

You may remember Charlo Greene from when she went viral for quitting her job as a reporter on like television while outing herself as the founder of Alaska Cannabis Club. Now living in Los Angeles, Greene says, “I’m Charlo “Fuck it, I quit” Greene, and I’m credited with the legalization of marijuana in Alaska.” An exceptional entrepreneur, she’s also the founder of Go Green, a cannabis diversity summit series.

“I use my connections to pull in as many community leaders of color to come in and share their knowledge, experience and expertise with people that really need a leg up in this industry, and make it mean something for them and their communities,” says Greene. “I think a lot of the work that I’m doing is overlooked because I am a woman and because I am a person of color.” 

Greene’s success has come with a heavy price that proves the War on Drugs in far from over. “I’m facing 54 years for creating the Alaska Cannabis Club, so in the meantime, it’s dreary that my life could be over this year,” she explains. “But if I stop doing what I know I am here to do, which is share these amazing stories and activate people, then the state has already won.”

Greene adds that she didn’t quit her job as a reporter because she hated it, but because she knew there was work to be done in marijuana advocacy: “There was a community of people that needed someone to be bold and I knew that was me. So I’m gonna continue what I’m doing, just on my own terms with The Weed Show.”

Jack Herer

If you’ve heard the name Jack Herer, it’s probably because you’ve smoked the award-winning strain named after him. The man behind the bud, however, was an author and activist widely credited with spawning the modern legalization effort. And he didn’t even smoke his first joint until age 30. Cannabis advocates continue to revere his 1985 book The Emperor Wears No Clothes as a guideline for reasonable cannabis regulation. 

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Authored By

Michael Berger

Michael Berger is Managing Partner of StoneBridge Partners, LLC and Founder of Prior to entering the cannabis industry, Michael was an Equity Research Analyst at Raymond James Financial covering the Energy Sector. Michael has been featured in publications such as The Street, Bloomberg, US Money News, and hosts various cannabis events across North America.


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