Countless people have contributed to the current state of cannabis in the US. The fight to not only legalize the plant but to push for better research and innovation has been a long one, and the folks who have been there from the start should never be forgotten. Here are our top picks for the Mt. Rushmore of Weed: Four people who played a pivotal role in where we are today in the cannabis community — some who are still fighting strong, and others no longer with us — but never forgotten nonetheless.
Many may recognize the name as one of their favorite strains, but the original Jack Herer was a cannabis activist and writer, and his popular book The Emperor Wears No Clothes: Hemp and the Marijuana Conspiracy chronicled the history of cannabis, as well as the various benefits of both the flower and the plant itself. Herer’s writing influenced a number of fellow activists, helping to change the hearts and minds of people to better understand the power of this plant. The “Emperor of Hemp,” as he was known, Herer believed that hemp could one day save the world. Unfortunately, with his death in 2010, he did not live long enough to see how far legalization has since come.
San Francisco activist Dennis Peron may have died earlier this year, but his impact will not be forgotten. In the midst of the AIDS crisis of the ’80s and ’90s, Peron was a staunch advocate for the legalization and health benefits of medical marijuana. He understood the realities of AIDS, as his longtime partner succumbed to the disease in 1990. He also knew how helpful cannabis could be for those still suffering and so ended up selling marijuana, opening the first public dispensary in the US, the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club.
Thanks to Peron’s efforts, the city of San Francisco passed an ordinance legalizing medical cannabis, and his work also influenced Proposition 215 in 1996, the law that legalized medical marijuana for the entire state of California. Without Peron and his tireless activism, who knows if the Golden State would have been one of the pioneers of cannabis legalization?
California resident Valerie Corral was in a car accident in 1973 that caused her a brain trauma resulting in epilepsy. She began using cannabis to help treat her seizures and other health problems, and it was eventually able to take the place of the cornucopia of more traditional medications that she had been prescribed. It was her experience treating her brain injury that pushed Corral to become the cannabis advocate she remains to this day.
Despite numerous raids and arrests related to the growing and dispensing of cannabis for medical treatments, Corral kept on fighting. In 1993, she co-founded the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana — the longest running medical marijuana collective and nonprofit in the nation, and still serves as its director. Three years after the nonprofit’s founding, Corral worked with several activists, including Dennis Peron, to create and help pass Proposition 215, establishing legal medical marijuana in California. Corral continues to work toward full cannabis legalization, serving on NORML’s advisory board.
Dubbed the “(Grand)Father of Medical Marijuana Research,” 87-year-old Raphael Mechoulam has certainly made his mark when it comes to the understanding of both THC and CBD. Starting out as a biochemist in Israel, and becoming the world’s foremost cannabis researcher, Mechoulam was one of the first scientists to isolate and explore THC and later CBD, as well as being the one to discover the human endocannabinoid system, helping researchers, patients and cannabis enthusiasts alike gain more nuanced knowledge of the plant and what makes it so special. Without Mechoulam’s work, we wouldn’t have the vast array of knowledge relating to how THC and CBD impact the body and brain. All of this, and he still claims never to have smoked a joint!