I’ll be honest: history classes were never really my jam. I was more drawn to English, journalism and social sciences in college — and yet I always knew somehow I would eventually develop a deep passion for history.
And sure enough, it happened — starting with sprawling Ken Burns documentaries, moving forward with smart history podcasts and hitting me over the head more recently via Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical theater masterpiece “Hamilton.”
While I spent my 20s in rock clubs and my 30s studying drug policy, I find myself in my 40s going back to explore the historical roots of these subjects and others. And like countless others before me, I’m learning how thrilling it can be to understand history and how impossible it is to fully comprehend the present or forecast the future without knowing what came before.
Cannabis history is a fascinating one, from ancient Chinese relics to the Anslingers and DeAngelos of the world. But many modern cannabis consumers are hardly aware of this rich history, and so here’s a lively lesson on three figures in cannabis history you may not know.
Raymond P. Shafer
Raymond P. Shafer was the 39th Governor of Pennsylvania, from 1967 to 1971. Before this son of a reverend became a national GOP leader, he was an Eagle Scout, high school valedictorian, Yale Law grad, naval intelligence officer, World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient.
After Shafer’s gubernatorial term, President Richard Nixon appointed Shafer as chairman of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (later dubbed the Shafer Commission). And just think of the timing: Nixon was approaching peak anti-marijuana hysteria, having just signed the Controlled Substances Act, which “temporarily” categorized cannabis as Schedule I in anticipation of the Shafer Commission’s report.
But when Shafer presented the report — Marihuana, a Signal of Misunderstanding — to Congress in March 1972, the thoughtfully researched report written by politicos, physicians, psychiatrists, pharmacologists, educators and researchers actually recommended descheduling and decriminalizing cannabis.
This was monumental, and champions of drug policy reform cheered the report’s reasoned, common-sense recommendations. Nixon and important congressional subcommittees, however, ignored the report and moved forward with a War on Drugs that targeted people of color and ruined untold lives.
Margaret Mead was an author and cultural anthropologist known for her groundbreaking research (and resulting papers and books) on the role of sex in primitive cultures, as well as the debate surrounding race and intelligence.
Before becoming an internationally renowned academic, Mead was the daughter of a sociologist and a University of Pennsylvania professor, recipient of a masters and doctorate from Columbia University, assistant curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In 1969, Mead testified to Congress that marijuana should be legalized, saying: “Marihuana is not harmful unless it is taken in enormous and excessive amounts. I believe that we are damaging this country, damaging our law, our whole law enforcement situation, damaging the trust between the older people and younger people by its prohibition, and this is far more serious than any damage that might be done to a few over-users, because you can get damage from any kind of overuse.”
Speaking truth to power, in 1969 no less. Impressive.
Dennis Peron was an entrepreneur and activist best known for radically changing medical marijuana laws in California and beyond.
Before Peron made drug policy history, he was raised in Long Island, New York, served in the Air Force in Vietnam and supported gay activist Harvey Milk in Peron’s newly adopted home of San Francisco.
Peron’s cannabis history is long, from his San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club — the first dispensary in the U.S. — days to unsuccessful, legalization-centric bids for California Governor and U.S. President. But Peron, known as “the father of medical cannabis,” is best-known for organizing 1991’s Proposition P in San Francisco and helping to write 1996’s Proposition 215 statewide in California, the latter of which allowed the cultivation, possession and use of medical marijuana in the state — the first time such laws had been successfully passed in the modern world.
TELL US, who are your cannabis heroes?
Originally published in Issue 39 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE