Veterans of the medical cannabis movement gathered last week to celebrate 25 years since the passage of Proposition 215, legalizing medical cannabis in California. 

While many of the San Francisco AIDS activists that helped carry the ball across the finish line are no longer with us to celebrate the mark, plenty of individuals took part in the quest to gain access to medical cannabis. Many would face persecution for their involvement over the years, but here, 25 years later, they very much sit on the right side of history, regardless of DEA raids or time served. 

Is there anyone we’ve felt worse for in the criminal justice system over the last 25 years than the cannabis operators who found themselves behind bars despite their attempts to operate in full compliance with California laws? Many of these people still sit behind bars or continue to deal with the aftermath of their efforts to help patients live the best quality of life possible.

Last Friday’s day of panels and parties in San Francisco was not just the anniversary of what many people consider 0 AD in the medical cannabis movement but was also meant to recognize those struggles that came after and continue for many small farmers in the age of legalization.

But make no mistake about it, this was a celebration of progress despite the challenges of this moment. 

“Of all the events I’ve thrown in the past 30 years, starting with quarterly hemp rallies in L.A. in the ‘90s, I think we got the most positive feedback on this one,” California NORML Deputy Director Ellen Komp told L.A. Weekly. “People told me they were moved, sometimes to tears, by the program, and that it re-energized them for the ongoing fight.”

Komp was also thankful it wasn’t just the OGs in the room. She found it heartening to learn that people, especially young people, care about the historical roots of Prop. 215 and recognize what a watershed event it was when it passed, lighting the fire for the reforms in marijuana and drug policy we’ve now seen nationally and internationally. 

“I must give kudos to Cal NORML’s director Dale Gieringer who put together most of the informative program, and to the attendees who traveled to gather together at what was compared to a 25th high school reunion of activists, many of whom hadn’t seen each other for years. We’re also grateful to our sponsors who made the day possible,” Komp said. “We do need the industry to step up going forward and support the rights of their customers, many of whom are still facing discrimination in the workplace, unable to consume cannabis in public spaces or even in their own apartments, or having their medical and parental rights infringed upon. And we must release all marijuana prisoners and lower our taxes!”

A younger advocate recognized for her work by the old guard last week was Amber Senter of Supernova Women. Senter has been a leading voice in the effort to secure a place in the industry for the communities hit the hardest, and disproportionately, by the war on drugs. 

“There were a bunch of OGs that got the award also,” Senter told L.A. Weekly. “I definitely think that I was the newest kid on the block to get one, though.” 

We asked Senter if it felt good to see the heroes of yesterday put the stamp on the very important work she’s doing in the present despite how different the work is.

“Yes,” Senter emphasized. “Very different times back then. I am grateful for the pioneers from that era fighting on behalf of patient rights. I am glad that we’ve shed a light on social justice and address those issues now.”


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