It’s been nearly four years since Canada has legalized cannabis consumption on a federal level. In the US, 18 states have legalized cannabis for recreational use.
Lately the focus has been on innovation in the cannabis industry, but before the businesses, entrepreneurs, and innovators, there were the pioneers of the cannabis movement that (I believe) have set the stage for cannabis’ presence today.
There is a distinct difference between innovators and pioneers. In order to have breakthroughs that advance any industry, there have to be people who pave the way for those advances.
Think about the Gold Rush, thousands of unnamed pioneers dedicated their entire life for a select few innovators to enhance the industry.
The same thing can be said for the automotive industry. Before innovators like Ford and Honda there was the Duryea Motor Wagon Company.
The cannabis industry is no different.
Let’s take a look at (in no particular order) some of the renowned pioneers of cannabis culture in North America.
Tommy Chong is more than a pioneer for the cannabis community, it can be said he is partially responsible for creating the cannabis comedy
genre in its entirety.
Nearly forty-four years ago Up In Smoke made its cinematic debut in 1978. Tommy is half of the comedy duo Cheech and Chong.
Tommy is a long time cannabis advocate and pioneer.
He spent nine months in prison for cannabis related charges from 2003 to 2004. In 2008, US Federal agents seized around 10,000 copies of his documentary a/k/a Tommy Chong.
Marc Emery is a Canadian cannabis pioneer that, like Tommy Chong, has spent time behind bars for his advocacy of cannabis.
Dubbed the prince of pot Marc began selling pipes and bongs in 1994. During this time paraphernalia was illegal to sell in Canada.
That same year Emery started selling cannabis seeds (also illegal) after attending the High Times Cannabis Cup.
He started a magazine called Cannabis Canada in 1995, which later was renamed to Cannabis Culture.
In 2000 Emery helped to found the Marijuana Party of Canada, and in 2001 he helped found the British Columbia Marijuana Party (BCMP).
He’s been the president since its inception and became the party leader in 2003.
Even though his store was raided several times between 1996-1998 and he spent time in jail, Emery paid Canadian taxes to the tune of $600,000 as a “cannabis seed vendor” between 1998-2005 until his second arrest.
From a walk-in seed store, he changed his model to a mail order method, but continued to publish Cannabis Culture magazine.
Jack Herer is more than just a renowned cannabis strain, he is a real person.
The author of The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Jack Herer began sharing his accumulated wealth of knowledge in 1973.
This book utilized research and science as the backbone to share the myriad of benefits cannabis possesses.
Before the book, he co-authored the comic G.R.A.S.S: The Great Revolutionary American Standard System. It’s aim was to be the guide for assessing the quality of cannabis strains.
Throughout his years, Herer organized and attended multiple protests advocating the benefits of cannabis.
He is known to be the reason for multiple acts that were passed, which enhanced the pro-pot movement.
Jack Herer spent his entire life advocating for wide-spread pot legalization.
Sadly in 2009 at a hemp rally in Portland, Oregon, Herer suffered a heart attack backstage, which was the start of his declining health.
Two years after cannabis became legal in his home state, Jack Herer passed away in 2010 at home with his loving wife Jeannie.
Today, we celebrate Herer's life with a variety of high-quality cannabis genetics named after the pioneer himself: Jack Herer.
Ed (Edward) Rosenthal was born in the Bronx, NY in 1944. He is known as the guru of ganja. Rosenthal is one of the top cannabis advocates, grower, horticulturist, author, and publisher.
During the 80s and 90s, he was not only a co-founder but also a leading columnist for the renowned cannabis publication High Times magazine.
Rosenthal worked with multiple levels of government to help pass California’s breakthrough bill Prop 215, which allows cannabis use for medical purposes back in 1996.
Thanks to Rosenthal, medical cannabis patients gained access to beneficial medical cannabis with a prescription from a medical professional.
He is also a well known author and co-author of over 30 books on cannabis and cannabis cultivation.
Ed’s Marijuana Grower’s Handbook has inspired millions of cannabis cultivators to learn and harness best practices for growing clean and potent cannabis.
Like other names on this list, Rosenthal was put on trial for cannabis.
His highly publicized trial is known to be one of the reasons public opinions changed towards cannabis use for medical and recreational reasons.
The name Snoop Dog and cannabis go together like PB&J. While he may not have taken a hard stance on cannabis activism in the past, his softer approach has paved the way for cannabis users.
Tons of celebrities have started their own cannabis brands, but Snoop Dog has gone above and beyond.
In 2015 he founded his company Leafs By Snoop. He also has a media company named Mary Janes which supports a CBD-based ecommerce platform.
By far the most innovative business venture for Snoop is co-founding cannabis-inspired Casa Verde Capital, an investment fund worth over 200 million dollars.
Brownie Mary ( Mary Jane Rathbun)
Last but definitely on the list of cannabis pioneers is Mary Jane Rathbun, also known as Brownie Mary.
At the beginning, she baked and sold pot brownies out of her house. She baked nearly 50 dozen brownies per day.
Later known as the grandmother of cannabis, Mary Jane dedicated her life to helping those suffering from AIDs and cancer by baking and distributing cannabis brownies.
With three arrests to her name, every arrest brough large-scale media attention to the medical cannabis movement.
Like Rosenthal and Herer, Mary Jane helped campaign to pass Prop 215, which gave medical cannabis patients access to the medicine they need to enhance their quality of life.
While Mary Jane was by no means successful, she had a heart of gold. Living off of Social Security, she used her limited monthly income to buy ingredients to bake pot brownies.
Cannabis Pioneers: In A Nutshell
Those that made this list are only a few of the many cannabis pioneers that helped pave the way for the innovations and industry we are so blessed to have today.
If it weren’t for individuals like Jack Herer, Ed Rosenthal, Tommy Chong, and Brownie Mary, we wouldn’t have the freedom and accessibility we see in the cannabis industry today.
When it comes to federal legality, cannabis legalization is still in its infancy.
Today cannabis battles are fought by organizations, scientific research, and businesses- not single individuals.
We are proud of these people and are blessed to pay homage to (what we consider) the leaders of the cannabis movement.
Who has inspired your cannabis ventures? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment below or reach out on our social channels. And remember: stay lifted!
About the author: Heather Burton
Heather lives with her husband and two children in beautiful British Columbia. Her passion has always been to enhance the lives of others by helping them reach their business goals.
Content management is her specialty, and writing is what she does best. Working specifically in the cannabis market, Heather strives to help dispensaries, patients, doctors, manufacturers and recreational users by giving them the voice they need. When she is not writing, you can find her anywhere outdoors and away from the screen.