The leaders in California set the stage for cannabis across the country.


As a Colorado-based cannabis business owner, I’ve long been rooting for sensible marijuana reform to take hold in states across the country. But as California prepares to implement Proposition 64 this January, I can’t help but think about the many medical cannabis warriors in California who came before me, steadily tilling fertile ground for broader cannabis reform.

California was, of course, the first U.S. state to legalize medical cannabis in 1996, ushering in a new era of marijuana reform efforts in numerous states. To date, a total of 29 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico have legalized comprehensive medical cannabis programs. Seven states and D.C. have enacted broader measures legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

Steve DeAngelo, founder of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center – the world’s largest medical cannabis dispensary – has done as much as anyone for the cause of legalization in this country. No question, his advocacy, outreach, vision and leadership over the past couple decades have greatly influenced the movement to legalize and regulate cannabis for responsible adult use in the Golden State and beyond.

I was deeply inspired by DeAngelo’s 2015 book “The Cannabis Manifesto: A New Paradigm for Wellness,” and I recommend it as essential reading for anyone seeking to better understand the cannabis plant and the many compelling arguments for its legalization.

I was particularly struck by DeAngelo’s beautifully written account of the first time he used cannabis. He depicts a euphoric experience of brightness, clarity and sharpness that contrasts poignantly with so many tired stereotypes of marijuana consumption.

Although my personal experience with cannabis hasn’t been quite that of DeAngelo’s, I was moved by his account and grateful for a glimpse into his experience with this plant. It helped enhance my own understanding of the diverse effects cannabis has on different people. For many, marijuana is an incredibly positive and uplifting substance that the government simply has no place prohibiting.

That realization is something another legendary marijuana advocate, Dennis Peron, discovered long before most. A true cannabis pioneer, he was the driving force behind California’s legalization of medical cannabis in 1996.

Putting his life and freedom on the line in 1992, Peron founded the first public cannabis dispensary in order to serve people suffering with HIV and AIDS in San Francisco’s LGBTQ community. Having personally witnessed the efficacy of cannabis on severely ill people, Peron’s sense of personal obligation fell not with the law, but with those individuals whose suffering could be minimized by cannabis.

His fierce efforts lobbying for medical cannabis reform across California, culminating in the passage of the Compassionate Use Act, have helped inspire my own advocacy and that of many of my colleagues.

Veteran industry leader and activist Debby Goldsberry has displayed a similarly unwavering dedication to improving people’s lives through legal cannabis access.

As co-founder of Berkeley Patients Group, Goldsberry directed the organization for 11 years, during which time it became one of the most successful dispensaries in northern California, providing medical cannabis to countless patients in need.

Goldsberry also co-founded the leading patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access in addition to influencing the creation of numerous other industry-leading organizations. Her tireless advocacy has shaped policy reform efforts in states across the country.

And of course no list of California cannabis warriors would be complete without horticulturalist and author Ed Rosenthal and Oaksterdam University executive chancellor Dale Sky Jones – two leading voices on the forefront of the legal cannabis industry who have deeply influenced the social understanding and acceptance of this substance.

In these days leading up to adult-use cannabis legalization in California, I’d like to tip my hat to DeAngelo and the many other trailblazers in the Golden State who have worked diligently to open people’s hearts and minds to this important issue – including those not mentioned in this brief space.

Their impact cannot be overstated.

In a few short months, responsible cannabis consumers in California will no longer be forced to hide in the shadow of prohibition, scoring questionable pot by questionable means. Soon, these otherwise law-abiding citizens will have safe access to high-quality cannabis in a legal, regulated environment and without the need of a medical recommendation.

California’s chief marijuana regulator, Lori Ajax, and the hundreds of other cannabis regulators at the state, county and city levels have a big job ahead of them. I wish them the best of luck and encourage them to learn from other successful state cannabis markets. Already, we’re starting to see Colorado regulators lift superfluous burdens as cannabis consumers and industry members demonstrate their dedication to getting this right.

I look forward to watching California’s legal marijuana industry blossom and expand in the coming years and to the continued progression of cannabis regulation across the country. It hasn’t been easy work getting to this point, but when the most highly populated state in the union implements cannabis legalization this January, it could very well be the domino that topples federal prohibition once and for all.

TELL US, who are your cannabis heroes?

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