Cannabis has seen a remarkable journey towards acceptance and understanding. Throughout history, individuals from diverse backgrounds have played pivotal roles in reshaping perceptions and advocating for the therapeutic, cultural, and economic potential of this ancient plant. From pioneering physicians and scientists to iconic activists, musicians, and entrepreneurs, these figures have left an indelible mark on the landscape of cannabis. Their stories serve as a testament to the evolving narrative surrounding cannabis.

  • Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy (1808-1889): An Irish physician and scientist who made significant contributions to the introduction of cannabis to Western medicine. He played a crucial role in bringing attention to the therapeutic potential of cannabis and promoting its use in medical treatments. O’Shaughnessy conducted the first clinical trials of cannabis preparations, first with safety experiments on mice, dogs, rabbits and cats, then by giving extracts and tinctures to some of his patients. In 1839, O’Shaughnessy published a groundbreaking research paper titled “On the Preparations of the Indian Hemp, or Gunjah” in the Provincial Medical Journal. In this paper, he described the therapeutic uses of cannabis for various conditions, including rheumatism, hydrophobia, cholera, and convulsions. He also highlighted the plant’s analgesic and sedative properties.
  • Dr. Raphael Mechoulam (1930-2023): An Israeli organic chemist, Mechoulam is often referred to as the “father of cannabis research.” His pivotal work in the 1960s involved identifying and synthesizing THC, the psychoactive compound within cannabis. Mechoulam’s groundbreaking research not only demystified the chemical composition of cannabis but also established a solid foundation for subsequent studies on cannabinoids, paving the way for a deeper understanding of the plant’s pharmacological properties.
  • Brownie Mary (1922-1999): A well-known cannabis activist, nurse, and baker, Mary Jane Rathbun aka Brownie Mary became a symbol of the medical marijuana movement for her efforts to promote the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes while the AIDS epidemic was roaring in the 1980s. Brownie Mary became known for distributing “special” brownies to AIDS patients. Her activism and distribution of medical brownies to those suffering serious illnesses made her a legendary figure in the world of cannabis and also became a symbol of resistance.
  • Lester Grinspoon (1928-2020): An Associate Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a legend in the field of psychiatry. Grinspoon’s interest in cannabis began in the 1960s. An unlikely crusader for marijuana, Grinspoon’s research began in 1967 with a goal to prove that marijuana was dangerous. He soon realized that he was mistaken about the dangers of cannabis and in 1971, Grinspoon published ‘Marihuana Reconsidered’ which challenged many of the prevailing myths and misconceptions about cannabis, presenting a thorough examination of the plant, its effects, and its cultural and legal status. His efforts helped shift public opinion and contributed to the changing landscape of cannabis policies in various parts of the world. Today, his ideas and research continue to influence discussions around marijuana, both medically and recreationally.
  • Willie Nelson (born 1933): A long time cannabis user and outspoken advocate for the legalization of marijuana. Nelson has been actively involved in various campaigns and initiatives aimed at changing cannabis laws. He has used his platform to bring attention to the benefits of cannabis and to challenge the stigma associated with its use. Willie Nelson’s advocacy for cannabis extends beyond words; he has actively contributed to the industry by launching his own cannabis brand and supporting organizations and initiatives that align with his views on cannabis policy reform. 
  • Tommy Chong (born 1938): Extending beyond his comedic contributions, Tommy Chong has used his platform to champion cannabis legalization, challenge stereotypes, and contribute to the growing acceptance of cannabis in society. Chong spent nine months in prison at 65, after getting caught up in a federal crackdown on paraphernalia vendors for selling glass bongs under his company named Chong Glass and Nice Dreams. To be clear, Chong’s family never sold marijuana or any drug of any kind—only bongs and pipes. Although it’s been nearly two decades since he left prison, his journey continues as a recognizable and influential figure within the cannabis advocacy community working towards the plant’s redemption story through federal legalization. 
  • Jack Herer (1939-2010): Known as the “Emperor of Hemp,” Herer was a cannabis activist and author of the book “The Emperor Wears No Clothes”. He believed that hemp and cannabis had enormous economic, environmental, and medical potential, and he worked tirelessly to promote their benefits. His work has inspired generations of individuals to question cannabis prohibition and explore the potential benefits of hemp.The famous cannabis strain “Jack Herer” was named as a tribute to Herer’s contributions to cannabis advocacy.
  • Keith Stroup (born 1943): An attorney by profession, Stroup founded NORML in 1970, making it one of the oldest and most well-known cannabis advocacy organizations focusing on and advocating for the responsible use of marijuana by adults, the decriminalization of marijuana possession, and the regulation of marijuana for adults. Under Stroup’s leadership, NORML has worked to change public opinion, influence legislation, and support legal cases that challenge marijuana prohibition.
  • Ed Rosenthal (born 1944): Known as the “Guru of Ganja,” Ed Rosenthal’s multifaceted contributions have had a lasting impact on the cannabis community. His work has not only provided valuable information for cannabis enthusiasts and cultivators but has also played a role in advancing the broader conversation around cannabis legalization, education, and advocacy. His book “Marijuana Grower’s Handbook” is considered a classic in the field, providing valuable insights into cannabis cultivation. Rosenthal has been a vocal advocate for the legalization of cannabis and the rights of cannabis growers.
  • Dennis Peron (1945-2018): Considered the godfather of the legal cannabis movement, Peron was a cannabis activist and co-author of California Proposition 215. As an openly gay man, he actually fought to legalize cannabis well before the AIDS epidemic, but when the disease began to ravage the gay community, Peron fought harder, opened a Cannabis Buyers’ Club, and co-wrote Proposition 215. Dennis Peron’s legal battle for medicinal cannabis rights was a turning point in the legalization movement, helping open people’s eyes to the drug’s benefits for terminally ill patients.
  • Rick Simpson (born late 1940s): As a prominent figure in the alternative medicine community, Simpson’s most notable contribution was his advocacy for the use of cannabis oil in cancer treatment, popularizing “Rick Simpson Oil” (RSO), a full spectrum cannabis extract used for its medicinal properties. While Rick Simpson no longer produces the oil himself, it remains a crucial ingredient in the treatment plans of patients across North America. 
  • Ethan Nadelmann (born 1957): Described as “the point man” for drug policy reform efforts and “the real drug czar,” Ethan Nadelmann is widely regarded as the outstanding proponent of drug policy reform both in the United States and abroad. A scholar and activist, Nadelmann founded the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization that advocates for drug policy reform, including the decriminalization and legalization of cannabis. He played a crucial role in shaping public opinion on drug policy. 
  • Steve DeAngelo (born 1958): Dubbed “the father of the legal industry” , DeAngelo is a lifelong activist, author, educator, investor, and entrepreneur on the front lines of the cannabis reform movement for both medical and recreational use. He has been involved in numerous campaigns and initiatives aimed at changing cannabis laws and policies. His most notable achievements include co-founding Harborside-one of the first six dispensaries licensed In the United States and one of the first to feature a drive-thru; Steep Hill Laboratory, the first cannabis testing and analytics; Arcview Group, the first dedicated cannabis investment network; Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to criminal justice reform for nonviolent cannabis offenders; and authoring The Cannabis Manifesto.  He played a key role in the passage of Initiative 59, Washington DC’s medical cannabis law; the passage of Prop 64, California’s adult-use law; and successfully defended multiple legal attempts by US federal authorities to shutter the doors of Harborside.
  • Snoop Dogg (born 1971): A well-known rapper, Snoop Dogg has been a vocal advocate for cannabis legalization. His laid-back and cannabis-friendly persona have contributed to the mainstream acceptance of cannabis, and played a significant role in shaping the perception of cannabis within the entertainment and sports industries. Snoop Dogg’s advocacy goes beyond business and personal use. He has been involved in community initiatives and programs that aim to address social justice issues related to cannabis prohibition, such as advocating for the release of nonviolent cannabis offenders.
  • Jane West (born 1976): A trailblazer for women in the cannabis industry, West is a successful entrepreneur and activist known for organizing and hosting cannabis-centric events that aim to bring together enthusiasts, industry professionals, and advocates.  West has also been a prominent figure in discussions about women in the cannabis industry. She has highlighted the role of women in shaping the industry and has been involved in initiatives that promote gender equality and inclusivity. In 2014, West founded Women Grow, an organization dedicated to empower women in the marijuana industry by providing networking opportunities, mentoring and business support.
  • Charlotte Figi (2006-2020): While not a public figure in the traditional sense, Charlotte Figi’s battle with Dravet syndrome inspired changes to medical marijuana laws across the country and ignited the CBD movement. Her 2013 interview on CNN with Dr Sanjay Gupta made Charlotte a symbol and hero for the medical marijuana and CBD movement.