While marijuana is only currently legal in 9 states and the District of Columbia, there are changes on the horizon, it is possible that marijuana will become legal in at least 5 more states by 2020, due to current legislative movements. Some of the individuals on the list below are responsible for the movement towards the legalization of marijuana for medical as well as recreational purposes. Today, the global legal marijuana market is worth nearly $8 billion dollars, and 90% of that market is in the United States. By 2021, it is estimated that the global market will be worth nearly $31 billion. Medical marijuana dispensaries dot the landscape, and it is expected there will be lots more in the future. Here’s a list of some of the most influential people in cannabis.

Dr. Raphael Mechoulam

If there is a godfather of cannabis, it would have to be Dr. Mechoulam. He is responsible for isolating THC in 1964, and although he claims to have never used the drug himself, he dedicated his life to researching it. In addition to discovering the compound THC, he also isolated and identified CBD oils, as well as anandamide – the so-called “bliss molecule’.

Perhaps his most important work was in the research surrounding the medical use of marijuana. Mechoulam found that cannabinoids found in marijuana had an effect on the human body, and that medicinal marijuana, such as the marijuana found in California dispensaries could be used to alleviate symptoms of pain. He also found that cannabinoids occurred in the human body naturally, and that a lack of cannabinoids in the human body may be the cause of issues within the human body, such as a lack of serotonin. Without Dr. Mechoulam’s research, it is safe to say that dispensaries in the OC wouldn’t exist.

Jack Herer

If Dr. Mechoulam is the godfather of marijuana, then Jack Herer must be the father. Many people have called him the father or the top advocate for the legalization of marijuana in the United States. Herer opened up the first “head shop” in 1973, and argued for decades that marijuana should be legalized because it was a useful plant, rather than a harmful one. Researchers trace the roots of the legalization movement to Herer’s 1985 book, which discussed the many uses of cannabis as a possible natural fuel source, in textiles, paper and for medicinal use. Herer was a die-hard advocate for medicinal marijuana, especially after he suffered a stroke in 2001.

Willie Nelson

Although most people see Willie Nelson as a celebrity, and he has achieved fame as a singer-songwriter who has been active in country music for over 60 years. By his own admission, he has been an advocate for the legalization of marijuana use since the 1960s. He is the co-chair of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Nelson has his own line of cannabis products in 2015, and opened stores in 2016 in Colorado, Washington, Nevada and Oregon. His company sells edibles, accessories for marijuana use, and vape products. Nelson has spoken for decades about the medicinal and meditative uses of marijuana, which has benefitted from his celebrity.

Keith Stroup

Speaking of NORML, Keith Stroup is an attorney and the founder of NORML, which he began with $5000 seed money from the Playboy Foundation with help from Hugh Hefner, himself a user of marijuana. Stroup advocated first for the decriminalization of marijuana, which gradually spread to 11 states by 1979. He then advocated for the legalization of marijuana. He has spent his life defending people charged with weed possession as well as those who were charged with using marijuana medicinally.

Jane West

Jane West has an interesting story on her way to becoming a marijuana activist. She had no role at all in the marijuana movement until 2013, preferring to work in marketing and event planning. However, in 2013, she was admiring the packaging of a friend’s THC products from a medical dispensary, and decided she could do a better job than the shop her friend bought her products from. She began looking for seed money to start her own company, and eventually raised $42,000 for her company, which she called Women Grow, with the idea that the marijuana market has been dominated by men, and she wanted to raise and support women in the business. She was named one of the most widely recognized women in cannabis in 2016. Interestingly, when she was noticed by the event-planning company for corporate events she worked from extolling the virtues of marijuana vapes, she was fired. However, she became a multi-millionaire in the marijuana industry.