Those with a negative mindset believe that it is impossible for one person to change history. However, there are countless positive and negative examples of it happening. From Leon Czolgosz’s assassination of President William McKinley in 1901 to Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership during the Civil Rights Era, there are plenty of occasions in American history alone where one man or woman has made a difference.
Admittedly, these individuals had help. Countless brave people helped MLK, for instance. Even so, it always takes at least one man or woman to stand up for something they believe in before others follow. Take America’s attitude toward marijuana; thanks to Harry Anslinger (and a few others), weed became federally illegal and thoroughly stigmatized during the 1930’s. Then, it was placed on a list of Controlled Substances under a Schedule I classification in 1970, and routinely demonized during the last three-quarters of a century.
Politicians have typically taken a ‘hard on drugs’ stance to boost their popularity at the polls, and marijuana was usually a prime target. This is fortunately not always the case anymore, as a majority of Americans now believe the herb should be legal for medicinal use.
| “As one might expect, a number of spineless politicians have waited until now to offer their worthless support.”
Fortunately, not all politicians lack a backbone. Since the prohibition of marijuana, dozens of men and women in politics have stood behind the cause of cannabis legalization. Here are seven of the finest throughout the world. The efforts of these individuals have helped bring us to a situation where marijuana is legal in 30 states, Washington D.C, and two other countries around the world. Like it or not, it will be a politician who removes the federally illegal status of cannabis in America, so let’s hope another man or woman of substance to match, or even exceed, this list comes forward.
1 – Fiorello Henry La Guardia
Widely regarded as the greatest Mayor in New York City’s history, La Guardia was a maverick. During a time when other politicians were trying to sterile the populous by banning anything that was fun, the Italian-American La Guardia stepped up. During alcohol prohibition, he drank a beer in his office in 1926 in protest of what he saw as a ludicrous law.
| “Widely regarded as the greatest Mayor in New York City’s history, La Guardia was considered a maverick for cannabis advocacy.”
By the 1930s, marijuana was associated with Mexican immigrants, and Harry Anslinger and his ilk had successfully turned public opinion against the herb. La Guardia became Mayor of New York in 1934, and never believed the notion that weed was evil. There were very few arrests in NYC for cannabis possession during his time in office, but his service to the herb goes way beyond turning a blind eye.
He convened what became known as the La Guardia Committee soon after the prohibition of cannabis. The goal was to study the herb and come up with an unbiased report based on its findings. It was published in 1944, and determined that weed did NOT lead to addiction in the medical sense of the word. Furthermore, it did not result in juvenile delinquency, nor was it a ‘determining factor in the commission of crimes.’
In other words, the Committee proved that Anslinger’s claims were all nonsense. Incredibly, the report even acknowledged that marijuana was not a ‘gateway drug,’ a fact that has only recently been accepted as fact.
Sadly, the report had little to no impact, and La Guardia stepped down as Mayor in 1945. Worse still, the frightened federal government warned the state of New York not to conduct further research. La Guardia’s efforts may not have succeeded at the time, but his hard work is now recognized for what it is. The Committee’s report was the basis for many pro-weed findings over half a century later.
2 – Barbara Lee
Lee has been a United States Representative for California’s 13th Congressional District since 1998. As well as being the first woman to represent the Oakland-based district, Lee has championed the legalization of marijuana for decades. Her stance is hardly a surprise as she is regarded as one of the least Conservative politicians in the country.
| “Barbara Lee’s stance on cannabis is hardly a surprise, as she is regarded as one of the least Conservative politicians in the country.”
Back in 2008, NORML gave her an award for ‘outstanding public leadership.’ As an African-American, Lee has always worked hard to ensure that people of color in the United States are treated equally. She acknowledged the fact that black men and women were disproportionately punished for cannabis crimes while being locked out of the thriving industry!
One of her most important recent achievements was to introduce the REFER Act to Congress in January 2018. The goal of the bill is to protect states’ rights to make marijuana legal (as opposed to federal law). She also helped introduced a companion bill called the Marijuana Justice Act, which was initially introduced by Corey Booker, with the goal being to remove weed from the Controlled Substances Act.
Lee has also introduced the RESPECT Resolution, which is a bill designed to provide equality within the cannabis industry.
3 – Dana Rohrabacher
In what is probably a surprise entry on the list to most of you, Rohrabacher is significant because he was one of the first Republican politicians to throw his weight behind marijuana legalization. He has served as the United States House of Representative from California since 1989, and first came to national prominence on the issue in 2013 when he called for full legalization of marijuana.
Rohrabacher has said that the war on cannabis was a ‘colossal failure,’ and pointed out the costs of the failed prohibition attempt. He has called upon his fellow Republicans to join the movement out of respect for liberty, the Tenth Amendment, and limited government.
| “Rohrabacher has said that the war on cannabis was [and currently is] a colossal failure, pointing out the absurd costs of the failed attempt at prohibition.”
He also has the surprising belief (surprising for a Republican, anyway) that it is not right to “protect” some individuals by “throwing others in cages.” He has joined politicians such as Don Young, Jared Polis, and Earl Blumenauer to form the bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus. If marijuana eventually becomes legal nationwide, Rohrabacher will have had a big role to play.
4 – Gary Johnson
America’s best-known Libertarian, Gary Johnson is the leader of the party of the same name. The self-made millionaire first entered politics in 1994 when he became the Governor of New Mexico. In 1999, Johnson became one of the first high-ranking politicians in the country to call for legalization of weed openly. Like Rohrabacher, he said the War on Drugs was “an expensive bust,” and compared cannabis prohibition to the disastrous alcohol prohibition era.
Johnson also walks the walk as a two-time Presidential candidate. In 2012, he received around 1.2 million votes. His 2016 campaign was heralded as successful because he earned an impressive 4.5 million votes; the most of any third-party candidate since Ross Perot in 1998.
| “During his 2016 presidential run, Johnson told the press that he only stopped smoking marijuana a few months before the beginning of his campaign!”
Incredibly, during his 2016 run, Johnson told the press that he only stopped smoking marijuana a few months before the beginning of his campaign! Sadly, however, Johnson also promised not to consume any weed if he became President. He has also said that he would remove cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, and pardon all non-violent marijuana offenders.
5 – Justin Trudeau
While he may have the appearance of someone who once tried to join a boyband, Justin Trudeau has confounded predictions and exceeded expectations throughout his political career. His father, Pierre, is a former Canadian Prime Minister, but Justin was not expected to follow in his dad’s footsteps.
While Trudeau (unsurprisingly) had an interest in politics from an early age, he only became involved at a significant level in his thirties. In 2015, he easily defeated Stephen Harper to become the Prime Minister of Canada – it was the second-best performance in his party’s history (The Liberal Party), and Trudeau was the second-youngest PM in his country’s history at the age of 43.
Trudeau’s first public utterances in favor of legalizing weed came in 2013. He told a crowd in Kelowna, British Columbia that he was for the taxation and regulation of weed to keep it out of the hands of children. In an interview later that year, Trudeau admitted he had used cannabis as recently as 2010.
| “As Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau will go down in history as the first leader of a Western nation to fully legalize the use of cannabis.”
As Prime Minister, he stayed true to his promise and pushed the idea of legalizing the herb. The Canadian House of Representatives passed the Cannabis Act, Bill C-45, which legalized weed recreationally, in June 2018. It is set to become fully legal in October 2018. Although the nation is not fully ready in terms of organization, it is a historic step because Canada is the first large country in the world to make cannabis completely legal. However, it is only the second nation overall thanks to the next man on our list.
6 – Jose Mujica
Mujica is often known as the world’s ‘humblest’ and ‘poorest’ president. Certainly, the former President of Uruguay (2010 – 2015) is one of the best when it comes to being an advocate of marijuana. Unlike many politicians who do little other than pay lip service to causes, Mujica has always led from the front, and has had no problem risking everything for something he believed in.
| “Jose Mujica – the world’s first leader to legalize marijuana use on a nationwide level – is often regarded as the world’s humblest and poorest president.”
Mujica rebelled against his nation’s brutal military regime, and served 13 years in prison for his troubles. Upon his release in 1985, Mujica and many of his fellow rebels (the MLN-Tupamaros Movement) created the Movement of Popular Participation (MPP), a political party. His force of personality helped the MPP rise in popularity until in 2009; the year he was elected President of Uruguay.
He began his reign in 2010 and quickly pushed for marijuana legalization. He pointed out that repressing weed for 80 years had failed, and continued prohibition only strengthened the grip of the cartels. Although Mujica faced stiff opposition at the outset, he refused to buckle, and in 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to fully legalize marijuana. Retail sales started in 2017.
It is perhaps fitting that the first man to get legal weed over the line is such a stand-up guy. Mujica is renowned for both his humble nature and his generosity. He has been described as the ‘last hero of politics,’ and has received awards from several nations; including the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle, and the Ecuadorian National Order of San Lorenzo. Today, Mujica lives on his farm and has refused the state pension he is entitled to.
His courage over the last several decades has ensured that marijuana achieved a significant landmark. Canada has since followed suit in terms of nationwide legalization, and in decades to come, perhaps Mujica’s stand will be remembered as a pivotal moment in the history of cannabis.
7 – Ras Iyah V
It’s no secret that he Rastafari are known for being staunch advocates of marijuana. What you may not realize, however, is that Rastafarians hold the herb sacred. They do NOT believe you should smoke weed merely to get high. Instead, they believe it is a religiously significant herb, and they use it to promote heightened spiritual states.
DID YOU KNOW: The Rastafari believe cannabis is a religiously significant herb, and should be used to promote a heightened spiritual state?
The religious movement is associated with Jamaica, although they actually worship the former Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie. Given the Rastafarian link to marijuana, it is not a surprise to learn that the movement is at the forefront of efforts to legalize cannabis in Jamaica.
Iyah V is one of the most important people in the movement. He is a Rastafarian elder and chairman of the Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers Association. In 2014, he chaired an important meeting of the Association where he outlined his desire to prevent people from outside the faith coming to Jamaica and dictating the drive for legalization.
Iyah V is at the center of an effort to ensure that his fellow Rastafarians are organized into a cannabis cooperative that is legally recognized. Legalization is likely to come to Jamaica soon, and Iyah V wants to make sure that the people who fought hardest for it will be the ones who benefit the most.
Incidentally, he does not believe that cannabis edibles should be handed out to patrons at ganja-related events. Remember, the Rastafari don’t believe in abusing weed for narcotic purposes. Iyah V is concerned that most people who sell edibles have no scientific knowledge of the herb, and are simply providing samples with excessive levels of THC. He has called for the proper labelling of edibles in accordance with the regulations of The Bureau of Standards Jamaica.