In honor of 420: My dad taught at Occidental College in the 1960’s and had the honor and pleasure of being the liaison for Martin Luther King, Jr. when he attended a civil rights rally on that campus. My dad spent all day with the man himself, escorting him from place to place on campus, and even had lunch with the civil rights leader. When I heard this story, I asked my dad: “What’s the most striking thing you remember about him?”
My dad paused and thought about it for several moments. I was on tenterhooks, wondering what wisdom he was going to impart about this gentle yet fiery icon of social change. Finally, he said: “He was really short. He was very soft-spoken. He had a quiet way about him. Very serene. And a very charismatic smile. But the thing that struck me the most about him was that he had the absolutely thickest neck of anybody I had ever met .”
I laughed, of course, but I was also secretly disappointed. I had wanted something larger than life, something that made the individual live up to the legend. I was a little miffed at my dad, for cheapening the memory into something as mundane as a shirt size. I suppose it was unfair of me to expect a mere human to live up to the ideal, even humans as insightful as my dad and as courageous and world-changing as MLK Jr.
As time went on, and I began my journey into the Cannabis industry, I started to understand that thick necks mean broad shoulders. Shoulders that carried an entire generation, an entire nation into an entirely new and better way of being. I understood a little more about how life becomes a legend and about how common, everyday people wind up as heroes in a struggle against injustice and tyranny. Housewives become advocates because they need to get medical marijuana for their kids. Combat veterans defy the government they fought for so that they can get the cannabis they need to treat their PTSD. Investors and entrepreneurs become agents of social and economic change because they recognize this plant has so much potential for good.
Everyday people, doing everyday things, pushing against injustice and tyranny a little bit more each day. Maybe not as famous, or as self-sacrificing as my hero MLK, Jr., but heroic nevertheless. Many people in this industry have had to face harsh risks and make hard sacrifices for the privilege of championing this plant. Everybody in this industry is at least a little bit of a hero.
Just like my dad, and the hundreds of thousands of others who rallied to support the civil rights movement in their own uniquely human ways, we are taking an ethical stand against an injustice. We aren’t all MLK, Jr., but we are helping to move the bar closer and closer to the world where people are not denied relief from pain or illness, or thrown in jail, or have their children taken from them just for using a natural medicine to treat symptoms many pharmaceuticals have been unable to treat effectively.
As Cannabis entrepreneurs, we face broken legal, tax and banking systems that hamstring us. No other industry faces the same hurdles, from lack of capital for startups to cash-only retailing to the threat of federal prosecution when operating legally under state law. As hard as it is to start up any business, starting up a Cannabis business is twice as hard. (Some would say ten times as hard but I am an optimist by nature so I went with the more conservative figure.) Yes, a lot of us came to Cannabis because we saw an opportunity. But we also recognize that as long as people’s lives are being negatively impacted by unfair and ridiculous laws surrounding this plant, we need to give back, as well. The Cannabis Industry has the potential to transform lives for the better and to bring about a more equitable, ethical and compassionate society in the process.