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Looking Back at Early Cannabis Mavericks as the Cannabis Industry Charges Forward

It is an understatement to say the cannabis industry is booming. Thirty-three states have legalized cannabis for medical use and 11 now allow it for adult recreational use. In 2019 alone, the industry saw $52 billion in sales and increased jobs by 76%, according to Markets Insider. As the industry continues to grow and thrive it’s important we take time to recognize some of the trailblazers who paved the way for legalization across the country, giving us our right to utilize this amazing plant and all of the benefits it can provide to society.

John Sinclair

Michigan Cannabis Activist and Poet, John Sinclair.

John Sinclair

John Sinclair is a Michigan activist and poet who made big waves in the movement for legalization.  Sinclair was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison for offering two joints to undercover officers in the late 1960s. His sentence sparked outrage because people believed the cannabis laws were unfair and too severe. The John Sinclair Freedom Rally united public and private protests in 1971 where national figures like John Lennon gathered to call for an appeal of his sentence and bring attention to the severity of the law.

The Michigan Supreme Court soon declared the state cannabis laws unconstitutional and reduced sentencing. Sinclair was released from prison and quickly helped organize the first Hash Bash.

When Michigan legalized cannabis earlier this year, he was one of the first, if not the first, person to purchase adult-use cannabis in the state.


Tommy Chong

Activist, comedian, and actor Tommy Chong. (photo credit: Anderson Group PR)

Tommy Chong

Tommy Chong is a Canadian-American comedian, actor, writer, director, activist and musician, mainly known for his role in Cheech & Chong. Chong has used his acting and music career as a platform to promote the legalization of cannabis and highlight the benefits of using it. Through works like “Cheech & Chong” and “Up in Smoke” in the 1970s, he helped foster the normalization of smoking cannabis.

Chong was arrested in 2003 for distributing and selling cannabis paraphernalia online, but this only made his advocacy grow stronger. He turned down President Obama’s presidential pardon for the crime because he believed he had not done anything wrong.

More recently, Chong serves on the advisory board of NORML, where he assists the organization in moving public opinion to support the legalization of adult cannabis use. He has also teamed up with his son to sell cannabis products called “Chong’s Choice” in the United States. In fact, Chong’s products were early entrants into Michigan’s medical cannabis products when medical cannabis provisioning centers were legalized. Chong is a regular speaker at Michigan’s Hash Bash and has been a longtime activist in Michigan’s legalization movement.

Jack Herer

Jack Herererer

Cannabis icon Jack Herer is the namesake of the uber popular strain.

Jack Herer was known to some as the “Emperor of Hemp” because of his cannabis rights activism. Herer believed hemp could be used as medication, renewable energy, food, fiber and more.

He wrote “The Emperor Wears No Clothes,” which ignited a fight for the decriminalization of cannabis. The book has been continuously in print for more than 30 years and is still used as a source in the argument for legalization.

Herer founded and was director of Help End Marijuana Prohibition and is honored each year in various countries and cities around the world at the Jack Herer Cup for his part in starting the worldwide cannabis movement. Herer was also an early activist for cannabis legalization in Michigan and was featured as a regular speaker at events where national and local advocates for legalization discussed how the prohibition against cannabis use could be changed over time.

Keith Stroup

Keith Stroup, founder, former executive director, and current legal counsel for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Keith Stroup

Keith Stroup founded NORML in 1970 and served as its executive director. During his first nine-year-tenure, 11 states adopted decriminalization laws.

Stroup re-joined the organization in 1994 as executive director and a member of the board of directors. He was in the role for 10 years before stepping down to allow the younger generation of activists to move in. Stroup continues to be involved in NORML as their legal counsel and by speaking to college students. He also published a book about the organization’s history titled It’s NORML to Smoke Pot: the 40-year Fight for Marijuana Smokers’ Rights. His organization endorsed Michigan’s 2018 ballot initiative to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis.

Stroup received the Richard J. Dennis Drugpeace Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Drug Policy Reform presented by the Drug Policy Foundation, Washington, DC in 1992.

Ethan Nadelmann

Ethan Nadelman, drug policy advisor and founder of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Ethan Nadelmann

Ethan Nadelmann founded the Drug Policy Alliance in 2000 to help end the War on Drugs. He is globally recognized for his work in drug reform. In fact, Rolling Stone Magazine described Nadelmann as “the driving force for the legalization of marijuana in America.”

Nadelmann gained international acclaim for his writings and teaching on drug policy while teaching at Princeton University. He continued to use his platform to criticize and commentate on the U.S. and international drug control policies. He authored two books on internationalization of criminal law enforcement and has appeared in major media outlets and top academic journals talking about drug reform.

He currently is on the advisory board of the Open Society Foundation’s Global Drug Policy Project and is an advisor to the Global Commission on Drug Policy. Additionally, he has been drug policy advisor for George Soros and other philanthropists and local, state and federal elected officials.