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Fathers of the Modern American Cannabis Movement

Father’s Day is an opportunity to show extra appreciation to dear old Dad, but what about the metaphorical fathers of the modern-day cannabis industry? Get to know four of the people who offered their skills and talents to growing our understanding of cannabis and establishing community and industry around the plant.

Jack Herer, the “Emperor” of Hemp

Jack Herer was an advocate for cannabis legalization, serving as founder and director of the group Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP). Herer got his start in cannabis in 1973 as a purveyor of glass pipes and later expanded to include decriminalization of cannabis sale, possession, and consumption. He was also a leading proponent of industrial hemp, advocating for its use as a renewable resource for biofuels, foods, textiles, medicines, and more. 

Herer was the author of The Emperor Wears No Clothes, a non-fiction chronicle of his experience with cannabis and its many applications. The book was first published in 1985 after 12 years of compiling historical and anecdotal evidence surrounding the plant. He famously challenged readers to try and debunk facts contained within his book for a $100,000 prize. It’s believed that nobody has ever claimed the reward. 

Though Herer died in 2010, his name is still commonplace in the cannabis industry. He became the honorary namesake of a sativa-dominant hybrid cultivar developed by Sensi Seeds that ranges from 15% to 24% THC content. The cultivar Jack Herer is typically described as a cross between Haze and a Northern Lights #5/Shiva Skunk hybrid, offering a citrus flavor with undertones of pine as well as a balance between head high and body high. The cultivar is world-renowned for its popularity with a wide range of consumers, leading it to win multiple Cannabis Cup titles.

Raphael Mechoulam, Ph.D., the Father of Cannabis Research

Considered one of the world’s foremost experts on phytocannabinoids, Raphael Mechoulam is an organic chemist and professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Mechoulam is credited with identifying and elucidating the structure of several compounds found in cannabis, including delta-9 THC, the active constituent in cannabis. Mechoulam, along with his colleagues, also identified the existence of endogenous cannabinoids within mammals, including 2-AG and anandamide.

Mechoulam attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1952, where he received his M.Sc. He then attended the Weizmann Institute, Rehovot, Israel, where he attained his Ph.D. in 1958. It was 1964 when Mechoulam and fellow researchers identified delta-9 THC, the compound that causes the intoxicating effects – and many therapeutic benefits — often associated with cannabis. Mechoulam and fellow researchers would soon uncover why cannabis “works,” with the discovery of the endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS) and the system’s CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. For these discoveries, Mechoulam has earned the nickname the “father of cannabis research.”

Mechoulam, who is now 90, remains engaged in research into how endogenous cannabinoids contribute to biological processes and trauma recovery. In addition, Mechoulam has helped to develop synthetic cannabinoids which are being researched by pharmaceutical companies for their medicinal applications.

Sir William Brooke O’Shaugnessy, A Medical Cannabis Pioneer in Western Medicine

If it weren’t for Sir William Brooke O’Shaugnessy, the Western world may have taken even longer to catch on to the medicinal potential of cannabis. The Irish chemical pathologist and pharmacologist is credited with bringing medical cannabis, which had been known to Eastern cultures for millennia prior, to Europe. (Europeans were mainly familiar with hemp, used for textiles, rope, and other industrial applications.) He discovered the plant during his time in India, bringing it with him to England in 1841 and writing extensively on its therapeutic properties. 

O’Shaugnessy’s work laid the foundation for the development of modern medicinal cannabis, prompting an explosion of innovation in Europe. Manufactured cannabis products like tinctures appeared around this time and were widely used by physicians for treating a wide range of symptoms, including muscle spasms and pain associated with tetanus and rabies. O’Shaugnessy’s work occurred prior to the identification of Cannabinol (CBN), the first cannabinoid discovered by researchers in the late 19th century, and it predated Mechoulam’s iconic research on phytocannabinoids and the endogenous cannabinoid system by more than a century. 

In addition to his pioneering cannabis research, O’Shaugnessy contributed significantly to the development of electrical telegraphy, laying 22 miles of wires and establishing an experimental system throughout the Botanical Garden at Calcutta, India. He is also credited with a breakthrough discovery that led to the development of intravenous fluid and electrolyte-replacement therapy.

Bob Marley, The Cultural Cannabis Patriarch 

Bob Marley was an internationally famous musician from Jamaica who is widely recognized as a pioneering artist of the reggae genre, blending Jamaican ska and rocksteady styles. Marley’s lyrics and message gained him credibility as a Rastafari icon focused on spirituality and an emissary of Jamaican culture worldwide.

Cannabis consumption was not only a cultural element among Marley and his fans, but also Rastafarian and Jamaican culture. For Rastafari, consumption of cannabis, or “ganja,” is a sacred practice the furthers spiritual connection and assists in meditation. As a result, Marley was an outspoken advocate for cannabis legalization, purportedly stating:

“When you smoke herb, herb reveal yourself to you. All the wickedness you do, the herb reveal itself to yourself, your conscience, show up yourself clear, because herb make you meditate. Is only a natural thing and it grow like a tree.”

Marley’s visibility helped to normalize cannabis consumption among Western audiences where his music was popular, but Prohibition (and Reefer Madness-style stigma) remained the standard. 

The cultural connection between Marley, his music, and cannabis can still be seen in the work of the late musician’s family. Members of the Marley clan released “Marley Natural” in 2015, a brand of cannabis focused on developing manufactured products derived from cannabis, including topicals and edibles. Additionally, Rohan Marley, the musician’s youngest son, is a member of a startup group known as Ace Ventures LLC, which is launching a cannabis cultivation facility and dispensary on the east coast of the U.S. 

Steve DeAngelo, the Father of the Legal Cannabis Industry

Steve DeAngelo, 63, is a well-known figurehead in the legal cannabis industry who is co-founder of Harborside, one of the first licensed medical cannabis dispensaries in the U.S., and a co-founder of the National Cannabis Industry Association, among other titles and initiatives.

But it is not for the dispensary alone that DeAngelo is known and celebrated. He was also instrumental in advocating for the passage of Initiative 59, the measure that legalized medicinal cannabis in D.C. DeAngelo is also a cannabis rights activist and advocate for legalization who was called “the Father of the Legal Cannabis Industry” by former Speaker of the California Assembly and Mayor of San Francisco Willie L. Brown, Jr. He also currently serves as an adviser to the Last Prisoner Project, an organization dedicated to cannabis policy reform in the criminal justice system.

As an activist, DeAngelo was the lead organizer for the Fourth of July Smoke-In in Washington, D.C. for 10 years. He also opened a DIY counter-cultural space to oppose the prohibition on cannabis consumption during the Reagan and Bush (1988-1992) administrations. DeAngelo also served as lead organizer for the inaugural Hemp Museum and Hemp Tour. 

Celebrating the “fathers of cannabis” on Father’s Day and year-round

These four father figures of the modern cannabis industry are just some of many influential people throughout history who have shaped our understanding of, and the legal status of, cannabis. Scores of scientists, researchers, healers, leaders, and other change-makers have contributed along the way. This Father’s Day, take a moment to celebrate a father or an important father figure in your life.

Sources:

1. History of cannabis and the endocannabinoid system – PubMed (nih.gov)

2. Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy (1808-1889), MD, FRS, LRCS Ed: Chemical pathologist, pharmacologist and pioneer in electric telegraphy – PubMed (nih.gov)

3. This Is How Bob Marley’s Pot Brand Is Trailblazing the Cannabis Industry (mic.com)

4. Bob Marley’s son considers sites in NY for marijuana production plant (democratandchronicle.com)

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