Madison NORML’s Ben Masel loses battle with lung cancer

  • by Russ Belville, NORML Outreach Coordinator April 30, 2011

    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:

    38 responses to “Madison NORML’s Ben Masel loses battle with lung cancer”

    1. Howie says:


      Don’t stand by my grave and weep,
      for I am not there, I do not sleep.
      I am a thousand winds that blow,
      I am the diamond’s glint on the snow,
      I am sunlight on ripened grain,
      I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
      Don’t stand by my grave and cry,
      I am not there, I did not die.

      -Unknown Native American

    2. […] full post on NORML Blog, Marijuana Law Reform Share and […]

    3. Cat Cassie says:

      R.I.P. Ben. Thank you for all you have done for this great cause. I’m sorry you won’t get to see the end result (full legalization) of all your hard work.

    4. The American Genesist says:

      8. luana

      Cannabis is neither a drug nor a weed – it’s a food. It grows out of the ground naturally – and – is the nutritious complete whole food known to man. When you extract the THC it’s even more a food – and – a harmless plant with zero psycho-actives. Only a “__?__” would deny us our food and Sacrament.

    5. NORML Nate says:

      Wisconsin has lost one of its greats.

    6. Michelle says:

      As a political blogger at the DailyKos site for the past few years I always enjoyed reading comments left by Ben Masel to my posts. I didn’t even know at the time he was one of the founding members of the Yippies and his history with NORML. I’ll pull together all my postings from the DailyKos Archives and include Ben’s response ocmments and truly he was a brilliant committed activist to end this Epic Fail of the War on Marijuana. I talked to one of his good friends here in Tucson a few weeks ago and she said Ben’s dream was to see marijuana legal in his lifetime so he will be missed and when marijuana is legalized (or I should say re-legalized) we should all light a candle and say a big thank you for the efforts of Ben.

    7. PG-WI says:

      R.I.P. The spirit lives on! We’ll keep on fighting for our rights! You will not be forgotten!

    8. jay p from dc says:

      Rest in peace Ben

    9. adriantheloser says:

      I wonder thought, what are people going to think….cannabis activist dies from lung cancer…i can only imagine the media running with this…and detractors of this movement saying o look he got lung cancers look pot IS bad for you (even thought i can be consumed in other ways, and not just smoked)….but still its good to give someone who passed recognition and so forth…


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