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By Lindsey Bartlett

Those who have a heart for cannabis legalization know it's not at the finish line quite yet. The communities that include patients, cultivators, forward-thinking doctors, stoners, and workers still face legal barriers, social stigma, and are far from the social justice, equity, clemency, and ubiquitous freedom we want for cannabis and its many, many users.

And much like the marijuana legalization movement depended on the power of activism throughout the decades, The Weedmaps Museum of Weed can't tell the story of weed without speaking truth to power. Weedmaps understands that we benefit from the ground laid by activists who helped legalize adult use marijuana in 11 states come January 2020, and medical use in 33 states and more on the horizon. 

The Weedmaps Museum of Weed pays tribute to those influential activists in marijuana history and modern-day activists who continue to fight for cannabis access across the world today. 

Here is a brief history of cannabis activism, the organizations that continue to further the conversation, and how the Weedmaps Museum of Weed lets you join the movement. 

History of Cannabis Activism

When it comes to a state's path to legalization, more often than not the spark began with grass-roots activism. Without activists willing to put in countless hours to organizing, strategizing, and mobilizing their communities and holding governments accountable, cannabis access would be non-existent. 

The marijuana legalization movement has a rich history of activism. During the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s, activists fought and sacrificed greatly, often dealing with criminal prosecution, facing incarceration, and even risking their lives to advocate for the legalization of medical marijuana in California. That spirit still exists today, where passionate advocates continue to speak out in the face of discrimination, stigma, and legal repercussions in states such as Oklahoma, Utah, and New York.

With the influence they had on marijuana legalization and culture, some of the most celebrated cannabis activists include: 

  • Dennis Peron, “the father of medical cannabis,” opened the first dispensary in the U.S., the San Francisco Buyers Club, in the Castro District in 1992. Peron advocated for cannabis access after he lost his partner during the AIDS epidemic. His bravery and leadership during the battle for marijuana legalization have made him a cannabis activism legend. Peron was instrumental in the passing of Proposition 215, the California ballot initiative that legalized medical marijuana, the first of its kind in the U.S.
  • Mary Jane Rathburn, known as “Brownie Mary,” is forever intertwined with the cannabis legalization movement for her underground operation in which she provided marijuana-infused brownies to AIDS patients in the LGBTQ community in the 1970s. At age 68, Rathburn was arrested and charged with a felony for making brownies in what was known as the “bust heard 'round the world,” resulting in a media frenzy surrounding marijuana legalization.
  • Jack Herer, the “Emperor of Hemp,” was an activist who pushed for the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana and hemp cultivation for medical, recreational, and notably for industrial use as fibers, clothing, plastics. The author of “The Emperor Wears No Clothes,” Herer earned his induction into the Counterculture Hall of Fame through decades of cultivation.
  • Keith Stroup founded the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in 1970 and has dedicated nearly 50 years to weed users' rights. He helped to transform the organization's weed activism mission and was a powerful spokesperson who helped propel Proposition 215 in California, with dozens of states to follow.  

To learn more about the LGBTQ community's fight for marijuana legalization in the 1980s and 1990s, read “We Wouldn't Have Legal Weed Without These LGBTQ Activists.” 

Why Cannabis Activism Is Still Needed Today

In the places where weed is legal, it is because people took to the streets to drive this movement forward. Modern activists led State Question 788 that legalized medical marijuana in Oklahoma, work from the Utah Patients Coalition allowed medical access in Utah, and bold activists have fought tirelessly to legalize cannabis in Illinois.

The legalization of marijuana isn't one gigantic fight, it's thousands of battles that take place across the United States every day. These battles cannot be fought by one group or generation alone, but must be fought by thousands of activists of all stripes and colors. These highly respected organizations can attest to it. 

  • NORML, founded in 1970 by attorney Keith Stroup, is the first nonprofit in the U.S. advocating for the end of prohibition. Based in Washington D.C., its goal of responsible cannabis use helped to reframe the ideology behind legalization activism today. NORML has grown its advocacy efforts into Australia, France, Canada, England, New Zealand, and Ireland. Get involved in NORML's Action Center or become a NORML member.
  • Marijuana Policy Project's motto is “We Change Laws.” Founded in 1995, it is a political lobby and nonprofit currently fighting for cannabis reform through public policy changes. MPP has a great list of resources for activists who want to put their energy into writing U.S. Senators and representatives. Become a member of MPP and spread the word via the nonprofit's current Take Action resources
  • Drug Policy Alliance, based in New York City and founded in summer 2000, has seen substantial wins for drug reform in the U.S. It hosts the International Drug Policy Reform Conference, which aims to end the war on drugs through research, science, and compassion. DPA has played a role in each piece of state cannabis legislation in the U.S., spearheaded the national legalization in Uruguay, the first adult-use country in the world. Participate with the DPA and be alerted on ways you can take action.
  • Students Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) is a grass-roots, student-run organization founded in 1998 based on campuses around the world. It spans the globe with young-adult groups in Bolivia, China, Sierra Leone, Costa Rica, Zambia, and more.
  • CAN-DO Clemency fights for the freedom of all non-violent drug offenders. Since its founding in 2000 by Amy Ralston Povah, CAN-DO Clemency has offered education, working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation to free incarcerated people. Become a Guardian Angel to directly help free prisoners in its network.

How the Weedmaps Museum of Weed Helps the Cause

When you enter the Weedmaps Museum of Weed, you will be transported to some of the most crucial moments in the history of cannabis activism in the following exhibits: 

  • The Counterculture Revolution: The 1960s counterculture revolution is so important to weed legalization, it has its own transporting exhibit in the museum. You will walk through the door of a Volkswagen Bus into a massive swirl of real posters, protest signs, and pivotal activist moments, all against the psychedelic backdrop of the 1960s. You will see two sides of the story, where politics and activism collided in America.
  • Just Say No: You will be taken into the disorienting whirlpool of “Just Say No” ad campaigns that seemed to encompass much of the Reagan era. With a unique social justice orientation, you will be able to listen to the stories of four people who are currently behind bars in the United States for low-level marijuana crimes that have devastated their lives. 
  • Dose of Compassion: You will see a life-size replica of the first medical marijuana dispensary in the United States, the San Francisco Buyers Club. This exhibit will transport you to that moment in time when the first medical marijuana clinic open in the U.S. during the AIDS epidemic.

And while you will get a full history of cannabis activism, you'll also be encouraged to be an active part of it, too. 

At the end of the 26,000-square-foot museum exhibit spaces, you will find a series of digital kiosks where you can help influence the next generation of cannabis laws by sending an email to your federal and state policymakers.

The cannabis community's voice will be heard. And now yours can, too. 

This content is sponsored by Weedmaps. General Admission and VIP Tickets for the Weedmaps Museum of Weed are available at themuseumofweed.com

Feature image: The Minnesota chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) participates in the 2013 Twin Cities Pride parade in downtown Minneapolis. NORML is one of the most-established marijuana reform groups in the U.S. (Photo by Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons; used with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license)

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