It is with great sadness I report on the death of one of the most outstanding activists in the NORML family – Ben Masel has passed away at age 56 following his battle with lung cancer.
Friends are leaving tribute on Ben’s Facebook page.
I met Ben at the 2009 Great Midwest Harvest Fest. He and Gary Storck flew me out to speak to the crowd of thousands on the campus of University of Wisconsin and the statehouse steps. I quickly found him to be exceptionally brilliant (he was just shy of “grand master” in chess) and loaded with fabulous stories of his past activism with the Yippies.
Ben had hoped to make it out to the NORML Conference last week, but obviously his health had taken a turn for the worse. The NORML Board presented to him a special award for his lifetime of work. My own tribute to Ben appears in the August 2011 issue of HIGH TIMES Magazine where we named him “Freedom Fighter of the Month”… unfortunately too late for him to read it. It will be one of my bigger disappointments that Ben never received the recognition he deserved while he was alive to enjoy it.
Following is the article for HIGH TIMES with my sincere condolences to family and friends who had the privilege of knowing and loving him more than I.
If you watched the TV news coverage of the Wisconsin labor protests in Madison last February, you may have seen this month’s Freedom Fighter Ben Masel. A longtime activist with Madison NORML, Ben was instrumental in creating the vibrant cannabis community in the state, including organizing Weedstock and the Great Midwest Harvest Fest that celebrates its fortieth anniversary this October 1-3 (see madisonhempfest.com). He’s currently been fighting over the past few legislative sessions to get Wisconsin to pass the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act.
While Ben fights for the end of marijuana prohibition, his activism also extends into mainstream politics as well. He’s a passionate civil libertarian, advocating equally for free speech and gun rights, personal privacy and a return to stronger congressional control of war powers. Ben has run many times for elective office, from a challenge to Governor Tommy Thompson in 1990 to his current candidacy for the US Senate seat held by Herb Kohl. He first caught attention for his radicalism when at age 17 he became the youngest person placed on President Nixon’s infamous “enemies list” and “the man” has kept his eye on Ben ever since.
This March at the age of 56, Ben received the horrible news that he’d been stricken by lung cancer. Speaking to the Wisconsin State Journal, Ben said, “I’m feeling pretty upbeat about stuff. Not about having (cancer), but overall. I’m definitely not in the ‘Oh, no, poor me, I’ve got cancer’ mode.” In reviewing our records, we’re stunned and embarrassed that Ben had not been listed among the 206 activists who’ve won the award since 1990. Everyone at NORML and HIGH TIMES extends our highest hopes for Ben’s good health.
UPDATED: NORMLtv is now streaming the presentation of Ben’s award from this year’s conference in his honor:
It’s January 2010, and that means it is time once again for NORML’s Weekly Legislative Round Up — your one-stop guide to pending marijuana law reform legislation around the country, along with tips for influencing the policies of your state.
** A note to first time readers: NORML can not introduce legislation in your state. Nor can any other non-profit advocacy organization. Only your state representatives, or in some cases an individual constituent (by way of their representative; this is known as introducing legislation ‘by request’) can do so. NORML can — and does — work closely with like-minded politicians and citizens to reform marijuana laws, and lobbies on behalf of these efforts. But ultimately the most effective way — and the only way — to successfully achieve statewide marijuana law reform is for local stakeholders and citizens to become involved in the political process and make the changes they want to see. We can’t do it without you.
Washington: Lawmakers on the House House Committee on Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness will vote on Wednesday, January 20, at 1:30pm on two pending proposals, House Bill 1177 and House Bill 2401. House Bill 1177 seeks to reclassify the possession of forty grams or less of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor to a class 2 civil infraction punishable by a $100 fine. House Bill 2401 seeks to “remove all existing civil and criminal penalties for adults 21 years of age or older who cultivate, possess, transport, sell, or use marijuana.” This will be the first time state lawmakers have ever voted on regulating marijuana production, distribution, and use by adults. If you reside in Washington, please contact your House member and urge him or her to support one or both of these measures by going here and here. You can also call the Committee and leave a polite, concise message voicing your support for marijuana law reform at: (360) 786-7131 or toll free at: 1-800-562-6000. You can watched archived footage of Wednesday’s hearing on these measures here.
New Hampshire: Lawmakers on the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will hold hearings on Wednesday, January 20, beginning at 1:00pm on two pending proposals, HB 1652 and HB 1653. House Bill 1652 “allows [for] the purchase and use of marijuana by adults (age 21 or older), regulates the purchase and use of marijuana, and imposes taxes on the wholesale and retail sale of marijuana.” Personal possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and/or non-commercial cultivation of up to three marijuana plants would not be subject to tax and regulation under this act. House Bill 1653 seeks to reduce minor marijuana possession penalties from a criminal misdemeanor to a fine-only offense. If you live in New Hampshire, please contact your House members and urge them to support one or both of these measures by going here and here. You can also call the Committee directly by going here.
Virginia: Lawmakers this week pre-filed legislation, House Bill 1134, seeking to dramatically reduce the state’s marijuana possession and cultivation penalties. You can read all of the bill’s proposed changes here and here. You can contact your state lawmakers in favor of this common sense proposal by going here.
Tennessee: Lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a pair of bills — Senate Bill 2511 and House Bill 2562, the Safe Access to Medical Cannabis Act — seeking to establish a statewide production and distribution program for qualified medical marijuana patients. NORML has retained a state lobbyist to represent the interests of our statewide affiliates as this bill moves forward in the 2010 legislative session. To learn more about this effort, please visit here.
Wisconsin: Members of Madison NORML and IMMLY are organizing a Medical Marijuana Lobby Day in support of AB554/SB368 the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act. The program will take place on Wednesday, January 20. It will run from 12 to 1pm at the state Capitol, in the first floor rotunda. More information on this event is online here. You can also voice your support for the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act by going here.
For information on additional state and federal marijuana law reform legislation, please visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.