Cannabis World Reflects on Passing of Advocate Hugh Hefner

Hugh Hefner Cannabis Now

Hugh Hefner died at age 91 this Wednesday. The mogul played in early role in the legalization movement.


While Hugh Hefner will be remembered mostly for building the Playboy empire to its global recognition, many longtime cannabis advocates have been quick to recall his efforts that helped moved cannabis to its current wave of reform.

Hefner, famously a free speech and civil rights advocate, backed the budding marijuana law reform movement in its earliest “on the books” incarnations according to NORML founder Keith Stroup, who described Hef’s role as crucial.

In a 2011 video, Stroup described how Hefner’s Playboy Foundation, the charity arm of Playboy, helped kick NORML off. Stroup said one of the lawyers working for Ralph Nader mentioned he should reach out to Playboy for funding. As things hadn’t gone Stroup’s way with previous efforts, he decided to give it a shot — and they were interested.

The foundation sent someone to watch Stroup work out of his home for a few days and then report back. Not long after, Stroup found himself heading to Chicago for a sit-down with Hefner and the foundation’s board. Stroup considers that meeting to be a historic moment for NORML because Hefner immediately supported the idea.

“Hefner had been someone who used to have been an alcohol drinker but had given up alcohol some time ago and had become a marijuana smoker. He had a personal interest in the issue and understood that it should be legal, it’s better for people than alcohol,” said Stroup in 2011.

Following the meeting and heading back to the beltway, Stroup received the Playboy Foundation’s first offer. The $5,000 grant almost discouraged Stroup (who had lined up another gig in case the NORML thing didn’t work out), but he bit the bullet and turned the money into 40 years of activism.

“At a time when most Americans were accepting the government’s ‘reefer madness’ propaganda, Hef, through the Playboy Foundation, provided NORML with our initial funding in early 1971 and became our primary funder all during the 1970s,” wrote Stroup, in a statement on Hefner’s passing last week. “And by focusing attention in Playboy magazine on some of the most egregious victims of the war against marijuana smokers, he helped us convince millions of Americans that marijuana prohibition was a misguided and destructive public policy.”

Stroup finished his remembrance of Hefner by calling him a fearless cultural crusader who believed deeply not just in the right people have in their bedrooms to do what they want, but also in civil rights and the right to cannabis.

On his podcast, the day following Hefner’s passing, comedian/MMA analyst Joe Rogan noted that one of the two occasions he visited the Playboy Mansion was for a Marijuana Policy Project.

A MPP fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion. (Photo Courtesy of Todd McCormick)

One of the longtime activists who helped put those famed MPP fundraisers together reflected on his relationship with Hefner. Todd McCormick has been a medical cannabis patient since a childhood battle with cancer and was one of the first cultivators raided by federal authorities following California passing Proposition 215 in 1996. Hefner had already been supporting reform nearly 30 years and wanted to meet his now famous Bel Air neighbor he’d heard so much about. They hit it off immediately, as Hefner felt like he knew Todd already from all the articles he’d read about him.

As McCormick spent the next three years making his way through the courts, he was a regular at mansion events. One of the last things McCormick did before turning himself in to start his prison sentence was to attend New Year’s Eve 2000 at the mansion.

“But fortunately that was not the last time we saw each other,” McCormick told friends online, “as fate would have it, upon release of prison, I got the opportunity to help co-produce parties to benefit MPP, in 2007, 2008 and 2009. MPP was kind and even gave me a lifetime dedication award at the last party I worked on, right there in Hef’s backyard.”

McCormick closed saying celebrating life was what Hefner was all about: “Treasuring every moment and appreciating those around you.”

TELL US, what will you remember about Hugh Hefner?

Jimi Devine has been involved in cannabis reform since 2005 and has worked in the Berkeley cannabis industry since 2009 when he moved to California from Lynn, Massachusetts. Currently serving as Staff Writer here at Cannabis Now, you can also find his writings on cannabis products and policy in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, The Hill, The Chronicle of High Education, GreenState.com, Marijuana.com, 7x7 Magazine, and in Ed Rosenthal's most recent book This Bud's for You. Jimi has a BA in Journalism and Media Studies from Franklin Pierce University.

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