Few industries have experienced the level of growth that cannabis has. Today, over a third of the country has implemented legal recreational markets. Cities like Seattle and Denver have dispensaries on every corner.
Cultivators are now free to share genetics and experiment with growing techniques openly. Cannabis is finally starting to be seen as legitimate in the eyes of legislators and lawmakers.
Who Are The Pioneers Of Cannabis?
But it hasn’t always been like this. Just a decade ago, all marijuana sales took place on black markets, and all grow ops were clandestine operations. Vocal advocates were relegated to society’s fringe, and the danger of facing serious prison time was omnipresent. Fortunately, we’ve had pioneers who paved the way for the modern cannabis industry despite these risks.
There’s still a long way to go until marijuana gets completely assimilated into mainstream culture and the victims of the war on drugs are released from prison, but today, let’s look back at how far we’ve come and who helped us get here.
#1 Jack Herer
No list of cannabis pioneers could possibly be complete without the inclusion of Jack Herer. Famously known as the “Hemperor,” Jack had an almost street preacher quality about him—passionately extolling the vast benefits of cannabis to every Venice Beach passerby who would stop to listen.
Despite numerous arrests for marijuana-related offenses, Jack boldly continued his work educating California’s citizens and lawmakers about the merits of hemp and shining light on the concerted effort made by big business to keep marijuana illegal.
Jack’s manifesto, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, has been in print for 11 editions and continues to inspire generation after generation of cannabis activists.
#2 Dennis Peron
Without Dennis Peron, there’d be no medical marijuana. As a gay man in San Francisco during the height of the AIDS crisis, Dennis watched as his community, devastated by the virus, was essentially abandoned by the Federal Government. With no relief in sight, many AIDS patients turned to marijuana to help assuage the pain and wasting that came with the disease.
Dennis coined the term “medical marijuana” while spearheading the campaign for Proposition P—an initiative to make medicinal marijuana legal in the city of San Francisco. After Prop P passed with overwhelming support, Dennis went on to open what would be the first-ever marijuana dispensary, the San Francisco Buyers Club, despite marijuana still being illegal in the state of California.
Eventually, Dennis would take it a step further by co-authoring Proposition 215—the bill that would legalize medical marijuana across the Golden State. Proposition 215 was the first domino to fall in the effort to end prohibition, and without it, there wouldn’t be any of the legal cannabis we enjoy today.
#3 Tommy Chong
As a member of the comedy duo Cheech and Chong, Tommy Chong made America laugh at the antics of two hapless stoners. Cheech and Chong’s shtick would go on to be replicated over and over again in such classic characters as Harold and Kumar or the Rogen-Franco pair from Pineapple Express.
Not only did Tommy help create one of the most imitated tropes in marijuana cinema, but he’s been a vocal cannabis activist for decades, even though it’s made him a police target. In 2003, the Federal Government spent over 12 million dollars on Operation Pipe Dream to stop the traffic of glass bongs and bowls. The operation ended with 55 arrests, including Tommy Chong for his role in promoting his son’s glass blowing business.
While 54 out of the 55 arrestees were sentenced to fines or house arrests, the government set out to make an example of the popular pot proponent—sentencing him to a whopping nine months in prison and over $120,000 of fines and forfeitures.
#4 Tom Forcade
Tom Forcade was a counterculture figure and underground journalist who once threw a cottage cheese pie in the face of the Chairmen of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography during a hearing on censorship.
Aside from the public pieing, Forcade is most famous for starting High Times Magazine with the funds he acquired smuggling hash into the United States. High Times had intended to simply be a joke—a one-off issue parodying playboy, but with centerfolds featuring cannabis buds instead of naked women.
However, the magazine found an audience, and Tom used the platform to promote legalization, disavow censorship, and debunk anti-cannabis propaganda. Even though Tom tragically ended his own life in 1978 after a lifelong battle with manic depression, his spirit lives on in High Times, which is still around in digital form to this day.