RIP Sacramento medical-cannabis activist Ryan Landers, 1971-2016
“My goals are for the sick. That’s something I cannot compromise.”
There was a time not so long ago when partaking in marijuana wasn’t easy: It was often challenging to purchase, it definitely wasn’t lawful to drive around with it in your glove compartment, the bud itself wasn’t lab-tested for dangerous chemicals and you took a risk every time you sneaked a toke.
So, in year 2016, if you enjoy the privilege of medical cannabis, you definitely have Ryan Landers to thank.
Landers was one of the founding fathers of medical cannabis. Worldwide. In 1995, he worked with the likes of Dennis Peron to file and get voters to approve Proposition 215, the first-of-its-kind initiative that legalized medical pot. In 1999, High Times magazine named Landers its activist of the month. And, over the decades, the advocate worked on issues such as Senate Bill 420, which essentially laid the framework for medical-cannabis dispensaries as we know them.
When patients crossed paths with the law, Landers was there to testify in their trials as an expert witness.
The activist was brazen, and known for lighting up joints anywhere from the White House to the state Capitol. He was the buttoned-up pot warrior, always cleanshaven and wearing a suit—and this earned him respect from lawmakers and district attorneys.
But he was a patient, too, a sufferer of HIV who looked to cannabis to alleviate pain and nausea.
In the fall of 2010, I hung out with Landers for more than a month for a cover-story profile. We drove to a debate in Oakland, with departed fellow activist Joy Cole (rest in peace), where Landers argued against Proposition 19, a contentious initiative that would’ve legalized adult use of cannabis. At the time, Landers said it would’ve made things tougher on real patients who needed pot for medical purposes.
He and I enjoyed long chats in the offices upstairs at A Therapeutic Alternative, a Midtown pot dispensary. We sat together at patient support meetings, too, and even went to cannabis comedy shows.
It always surprised me how he was opposed to legalization of recreational use in 2010. And, although I never spoke to him about the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which probably will be on the ballot in November, my hunch is that he was against it, too. And this haunted him, since so many of his contemporaries in the activist world supported legalization.
“You think I want to fuck it up for everybody?” he confessed to me back in 2010. “My goals are for the sick. That’s something I cannot compromise.” And he never did.
Sadly, Landers left us earlier this month, on April 2. He was only 44.
This past Friday, dozens converged on a funeral home in north Sacramento to praise Landers and celebrate his life’s work. He impacted so many—including this writer.
In this world of Ted Cruz and constant threats of federal pushback, Sacramento definitely needs someone to grab the baton and finish what Landers started. So, if you enjoy cannabis and all the freedoms that come with it in 2016, take a moment to toke and remember a guy who fought to make that freedom possible. Take a moment to remember Ryan Landers.