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5 People Who Have Shaped The Course Of Cannabis In American History

Marijuana is a divisive issue. While some see it as a dangerous drug to be outlawed across the country, others believe it holds vital clues to curing the most severe and chronic of illnesses.

Through the passing of time, there have been game changers in the cannabis story. Those people who feel so strongly – either negatively or positively – about the plant that they stand up and make their case.

Let’s take a look at those people who have helped changed the course of marijuana history.

Now there are many, many people who advocate the use of cannabis – Snoop Dogg, Raphael Mechoulem, Rand Paul – and we’ll cover their work and campaigning in later posts. But the following five men and women are just some of the many who have made a huge impact on how cannabis is portrayed in the eyes of the public.

If you’re interested in cannabis at all, you’ll need to know how the following people changed the course of history for the better, and sometimes for the worse.

Timothy Leary


timothy_leary_comfytree.comWhen you get someone who is brave enough to take on the whole country, interesting things will happen. Leary, a psychologist and writer, was driving with his kids down to Mexico when a police search of his car found a small amount of cannabis.

He was arrested for the possession of marijuana in violation of the Marihuana Tax Act. When the case went to court, Leary argued that the prosecution violated the Fifth Amendment, as the act required self-incrimination. The court sided with Leary and the Marihuana Tax Act was declared unconstitutional. Leary’s conviction was overturned and the Marihuana Tax Act was replaced by the Controlled Substances Act.

The court’s decision in the Leary case helped reviewed the effects of cannabis with more up-to-date scientific and medical investigations and research. The new Act took a more moderate approach to marijuana by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and providing support for drug treatment.

Rick Simpson


Rick Simpson Cannabis Comfytree.comRick Simpson’s name is now synonymous with cannabis cancer treatment. Millions of people now follow his method of extracting oil for the treatment of serious disease, creating “Rick Simpson Oil”.

In 2003, he was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma skin cancer. However, Simpson’s journey started thirty years prior to the diagnosis with a radio news report. In 1974, the University of Virginia had discovered that the THC compound is cannabis had cured laboratory mice of cancer. After unsuccessful surgeries to remove the skin cancers, he recalled the news bulletin.

Simpson had already been extracting the oil of the cannabis plant and ingesting it for health purposes. With his current illness, he decided to apply the oil topically to the various cancer spots on his face and body. He soaked bandages in the oil and took them off four days later to find the cancer spots had disappeared.

Back to good health, Simpson continued to grow cannabis and extract the oil, giving it away to anyone who wanted to use it for medical purposes. A documentary made in 2008 put Simpson into the spotlight and highlighted the potential of cannabis as a medicine to a wider audience.

Wanda James


Wanda James cannabis ComfytreeWanda is the first black woman to own a cannabis dispensary in Colorado. Prior to this, she was also a corporate executive, serial entrepreneur, commissioned military officer, restauranteur, and member of President Obama’s national finance committee. Her dispensary, Simply Pure, has come about from political, as well as medical reasons.

One of her reasons for opening up Simply Pure was to address the social injustice of black people and cannabis. With a disproportionate amount of black people are arrested every year for marijuana possession, James is standing up and taking action on what is a very big and very real problem.

The decriminalization in Colorado and the ability to educate on cannabis, James is slowly making headway in her community.

Her fierce arguments on cannabis being used against black people span from slavery to the prison industrial complex. Her passion is evident on the daily running of the business, her interaction with the authorities and her social work.

The self-proclaimed ‘Stiletto Stoner’ is fierce, resolute and everything that the pro-cannabis movement needs right now.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta


sanjay gupta comfytree.comThe beauty of Gupta is he is a trusted, household name. Winner of Emmy Awards, advisor to Hilary Clinton and bestselling author, his profile was already big, and as CNN’s medical correspondent, his advice and medical knowledge had a huge audience. Which makes his U-turn on medical marijuana even more surprising.

Previously, Gupta had been vocal in his anti-marijuana stance. However, in a 2013 editorial, he announced that he had changed his mind about what cannabis can actually do. He goes on to say that there is little potential for abuse, and is often the only drug that can treat certain conditions.

His unflinching honesty in his editorial “Why I Changed My Mind on Weed” has done a huge amount to change the outlaw image of cannabis in the minds of the American people.

“(I have) come to the realization that it is irresponsible not to provide the best care we can as a medical community, care that could involve marijuana…We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.”

Harry J Anslinger



Head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Anslinger was very critical of marijuana. Appealing to the mood of the time, Anslinger connected the smoking of weed to degenerate behavior of black people, Hispanics and musicians.

The FBN were responsible for circulating propaganda on the effects smoking weed had on society. It was blamed for addiction of harder drugs, promiscuity and serious crime.

Reefer Madness was released just a year before Anslinger’s 1937 Marihuana Tax Act. Despite the woeful acting, fabricated claims and unintentional hilarity, Reefer Madness created a fear and paranoia that eased the passage of the new laws regarding cannabis use.

Thanks to Orange Juice Blog, The Smoking Gun, Rick Simpson, Wanda James and CNN Press Room for images.


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