Cannabis causes violence. Cannabis makes you stupid. Cannabis is a gateway drug. We’ve heard it all before. Cannabis has been the target of a disinformation campaign for over a hundred years. From the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 to The Controlled Substances Act, cannabis disinformation laid the foundation for laws that incarcerated millions. Between 2001 and 2010 alone, there were 8.2 million cannabis arrests. 88% were for simple possession.
A lot has changed since then. Recreational cannabis is now legal in 21 states, and an astounding 68% of Americans support cannabis legalization. How did that happen? It happened because some courageous people risked their freedom to speak truth to power about cannabis. It may be awhile before our federal government finally ends marijuana prohibition, but if you can consume it in your state and not go to prison, have a session in honor of the legends of legal cannabis that made it possible.
If you smoke cannabis, odds are you’ve heard of the strain Jack Herer. It’s been one of the top Sativas on every dispensary shelf since…forever. But what do you know about the man they named it after?
If you want to talk about speaking truth to power, you have to talk about Jack Herer.
Herer was an army vet who didn’t smoke his first joint until he was 30, but it had such a profound impact that he dedicated his life to cannabis education and legalization.
In 1973, Jack Herer and his friend “Captain” Ed Adair pledged to campaign for cannabis until it was legal, everyone imprisoned for possession was freed, or they turned 84. Together, they founded the Reefer Raiders, a political action team. The Raiders were notorious for their “peaceful protests” at the Westwood federal building, where they smoked joints and advocated for cannabis. But in 1981, Jack Herer was convicted of trespassing on federal property while collecting signatures for a California ballot initiative to legalize hemp. He served 14 days in prison and started writing “The Emperor Wears No Clothes.”
Jack Herer published “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” in 1985. According to legend, he was so committed to the truth that he went to the Library of Congress to find support for his theory that the government suppressed information about the benefits of marijuana when it banned cannabis with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Herer’s thesis that cannabis was a beneficial plant outlawed because of greed and corruption resonated with the cannabis legalization movement. “Emperor” became its manifesto, and Herer became its unofficial “Hemperor.”
“Emperor” sold almost a million copies and provided the perfect platform for Herer. He spoke at hundreds of rallies until 2000 when he had a heart attack at a hemp festival. Herer recovered and continued to tour and speak until 2009 when he had a second heart attack after another speaking engagement. Unfortunately, Herer could not recover this time and passed away in April 2010.
Keith Stroup (another legend), who founded the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, called Herer “the single-most important figure in marijuana legalization.”
About a month after her third bust, Brownie Mary spoke her truth at a cannabis rally at San Francisco’s City Hall. She was 69 years old with short gray hair, granny glasses, and a sweater vest. Out on bail, she was staring down the barrel of two marijuana possession felonies. But her cause was more significant than that.
Brownie Mary was a waitress at IHOP for 25 years that sold infused brownies on the side. But when she became involved in the AIDS crisis, her side hustle became her passion. Brownie Mary discovered that her cannabis brownies helped AIDS patients with wasting syndrome by improving appetite, slowing weight loss, and easing suffering. She saw she could make a difference, and she went all in. By 1984, Brownie Mary was a volunteer in the AIDS ward at San Francisco General Hospital and baked nearly 600 brownies daily.
In 1991, Brownie Mary and Dennis Peron (another Legend) joined forces on Proposition P, a measure to make medical cannabis available in San Francisco and protect physicians from penalties for prescribing it. Proposition P passed with almost 80% support. Five years later, voters approved Proposition 215, making California the first state in the US to legalize medical marijuana.
Brownie Mary and Dennis Peron shared their first joint 20 years before Proposition 215 passed. According to John Entwistle, Peron’s husband, Peron’s favorite line was always “Pass that old lady the joint!”
Dennis Peron was an Air Force vet who served in Vietnam. He also happened to love cannabis. He loved it so much that when his tour of Vietnam ended, he brought two pounds back to America and launched a 40-year career selling cannabis.
Like Brownie Mary, Peron started as a supplier. He owned a restaurant and ran a “marijuana supermarket” on the second floor. He was busted many times. In one raid, he was shot in the leg by an undercover cop and ended up doing time for possession of 200 pounds.
But a raid on his home in January of 1990 made Peron an activist. His lover, Jonathan West, was dying of AIDS. Peron saw firsthand how cannabis relieved his nausea and pain. So when police seized the marijuana Johnathan needed for treatment, Peron was outraged. In his autobiography, “Memoirs of Dennis Peron: How a Gay Hippy Outlaw Legalized Marijuana in Response to the AIDS Crisis” (2012), Peron wrote, “Now, I’ve sold marijuana in my life — lots of it, but I was not selling that night.” Six months later, the charges were dropped, but shortly after that, Jonathan West died.
Peron realized that the laws that criminalized cannabis possession for medical use had to change, and Proposition P was born. He also opened the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers’ Club, the first medical cannabis dispensary. Peron wrote, “Watching the old supporting the young and the terminally ill counseling the incurably disabled was an increasingly inspirational sidebar.” The San Francisco Buyer’s Club soon became “… more than a place to obtain marijuana; for many, it became something of an extended family fulfilling important social and emotional needs.
Peron was one of the co-authors of Proposition 215. As California got close to passing it and legalizing medical marijuana, state narcotics agents raided Peron’s dispensary and shut it down. They seized 40 pounds of cannabis, and Peron was arrested and indicted for criminal conspiracy and possession. At the time, Dan Lungren was the California attorney general. He opposed Proposition 215, and Peron’s supporters believed the raid was a politically motivated attack.
When the polls finally closed on Election Day, Dennis Peron blazed a joint and waited to learn the fate of Proposition 215 ballot measure. It passed with room to spare, and California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana.
DeAngelo is the author of The Cannabis Manifesto: A New Paradigm for Wellness. “Manifesto” shares DeAngelo’s radical vision for the human relationship with the cannabis plant and is his call to action for rational cannabis policy. According to the Former Speaker of the California Assembly and Mayor of San Francisco, the Hon. Willie L Brown, Steve Deangelo is the “Father of the legal Cannabis Industry.”
DeAngelo started as an activist. He used to skip school to attend anti-war protests and eventually became the lead organizer of the annual Fourth of July Smoke-In in D.C.
He also opened a legendary counter-cultural hang spot that became known as a safe place for local cannabis advocates and activists during the Reagan-Bush era’s war on drugs. Jack Herer was a frequent visitor, and DeAngelo helped him edit and publish “ The Emperor Wears No Clothes.”
DeAngelo founded Harborside Health Center in 2006 as a medical cannabis dispensary. In 2016, the company became Harborside Inc. in anticipation of Proposition 64 and the new recreational cannabis market in California. Today, Harborside Inc. is a publicly-traded company on the Canadian Securities Exchange with dispensaries in Oakland, San Jose, San Leandro, and Desert Hot Springs.
In 2019 DeAngelo jointly founded The Last Prisoner Project with Dean Raise and Andrew DeAngelo. Like Herer and Peron, the core belief that guides the project is that no one should be imprisoned for using cannabis. The Last Prisoner Project’s goal is to end the fundamental injustice of America’s cannabis prohibition.
Today, The Last Prisoner Project is fighting for Kevin Allen, currently serving a life sentence for a 2014 conviction for selling $20 worth of marijuana. If you want to help Kevin, find out how you can take action at The Last Prisoner Project. #FreeKevinAllen.
In 1970 when Keith Stroup founded the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), there was no such thing as legalized cannabis. Instead, it was a fringe idea from the counterculture that mainstream culture did not take seriously. Fifty years later, 21 states have legalized recreational marijuana, and there’s no debate that Keith Stroup and NORML played a vital role in changing hearts and minds about marijuana.
Stroup first smoked cannabis as a freshman at Georgetown Law School. He soon became a regular smoker. Stroup credits his time at Georgetown with inspiring him to become a cannabis activist. “I got thrilled with this idea of using your law degree to achieve policy change rather than to simply represent a handful of individual clients, so I pulled some friends and colleagues together who had a similar interest and founded NORML in 1970.”
Hugh Heffner’s Playboy Foundation got Stroup started with a $5,000 grant. “They ended up getting comfortable giving us $100,000 a year in cash and two full-page ads in Playboy, and back then, Playboy had a large circulation,” according to Stroup.
Playboy also picked up the tab when Stroup’s team got 21-year-old Jerry Mitchell out on parole. Mitchell served a 12-year sentence for selling less than a half ounce of homegrown marijuana. Stroup believed the best way to meaningful cannabis reform was to “…get people to forget about the concept of whether marijuana is good or bad, and start thinking about what we are doing by treating people [who use or sell marijuana] as criminals.”
When Keith Stroup started in 1970, only 12% of the American public supported legalization. Today, 68% support legalization. “When I look at it now, I think we must have been crazy, considering everything we were up against,” Stroup says. “But that’s what youth is good for: running into impossible goals and finding out they’re not so impossible after all.”
As impressive as all this progress is, the fight is not over. Even with President Joe Biden’s pardon for some cannabis offenders, according to The Last Prisoner Project, there are still 40,000 people in jail for marijuana. Moreover, cannabis is still illegal at the federal law level.
Not everyone can be the next Brownie Mary or Dennis Peron, but we can all do something. So, what can you do?
Voters in California passed proposition 215 and Proposition 64 for medical and recreational marijuana use. Without them, it would not be legal in California. Make your voice heard by supporting pro-cannabis politicians and policies.
Many local organizations support sane cannabis policy. Keith Stroup’s NORML is a great place to find one.
Many of us live in our own social media echo chamber. We have no interest in different opinions unless it’s to express outrage. So we don’t discuss, we don’t debate, we don’t compromise, and we don’t listen and try to understand the other side’s point of view. Don’t be that way. Listen. Respond thoughtfully. Activism isn’t about who yells the loudest. It’s about being understood.
Public protest has always been a powerful way to focus public attention on a cause. For example, check out The Global Marijuana March, the Million Marijuana March. Active since 1999, over 800 cities in 72 nations worldwide have participated.
Whether it’s buying things from cannabis-conscious companies or donating to pro-cannabis organizations, everything helps. The Marijuana Policy Project has a fantastic database of pro-cannabis organizations.
Without their inspiration, courage, and determination, we would not be here today. At every location, we share their vision with our name. We believe that cannabis is beneficial for the body and mind.
At Body and Mind, our knowledgeable staff is trained to share the truth about cannabis and how it may help you. Visit us today, or explore our commitment to cannabis education online at Body and Mind.
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