Madison NORML's Ben Masel loses battle with lung cancer

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 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 thoughts

  1. Man it is sad to lose a warrior in our fight for this battle we have to win.Losing a voice like Bens is a huge loss to us all.At least your in a land where the man won’t bother you anymore.R.I.P. Ben

  2. Just how many more do we have to lose to prohibition? If it don’t just piss you off, and make you do something about it – well! – I’ll pray for you.

  3. Rip to a dear friend, I never met. I heard your message loud and clear. Thank you for supporting this great cause.

  4. I am very sorry to hear that Ben Masel passed. We have lost a man who had beliefs and demonstrated them. If only more people could lose their fear and stand for what they believed. We have lost a valiant warrior in this stupid battle. I was going to write him and tell him a story about my father and I looked up and saw that he had passed. My father fought in 2 wars to keep this country free and proud of it, a highly decorated soldier, I would like to think that Ben was like him, standing up for what he believed in, not dying with cancer but living with it. I had to get my dad some weed so he could be comfortable, which he would rather have than the heavy painkillers that he was prescribed. we could all take a page from their books. Bless you Ben for all you did for this cause and hopefully you will be rewarded with all the killer bud you can handle.

  5. Oh yeah, Marijuana is NOT a drug. It is a weed. Why can’t these politians get it. No they are too busy smoking it at home or on vacation, but they lie and call it a drug. IDIOTS!!!!!

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

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

  11. 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…

  12. Ben was brilliant and courageous. Modest as he was, he objected when I wanted to introduce him as “The Gandhi of Ganja” but that’s how I’ll always think of him. He was a radical . . . getting to the root of the matter, and never flinching. The tribute to offer the memory of a radical is to take to heart the last words of the old Wobbly martyr, Joe Hill: DON’T MOURN, ORGANIZE!

  13. Dear Community
    We may have lost a soldier but we also may have gained a rainbow warrior of the light who has our back every time we stand up in the spirit gandhi and martin luther king. So now i won’t stand by your grave and weep for i know you are not dead you are alive in our voice alive in the passion for making this world a more compassionite and conscious place. Blessed journey in the beyond my beloved friend, your rainbow hommie Fantuzzi.
    I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
    alive as you and me.
    Says I “But Joe, you’re ten years dead”
    “I never died” said he,
    “I never died” said he.
    “The Copper Bosses killed you Joe,
    they shot you Joe” they filled you full of lead.
    “Takes more than guns to kill a man”
    Says Joe “I didn’t die”
    Says Joe “I didn’t die”
    “In Salt Lake City, Joe,” says I,
    Him standing by my bed,
    “They framed you on a murder charge,”
    Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead,”
    Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead.”
    And standing there as big as life
    and smiling with his eyes.
    Says Joe “What they can never kill
    went on to organize,
    went on to organize”
    From San Diego up to Maine,
    in every mine and mill,
    Where working men defend their rights,
    it’s there you’ll find Joe Hill,
    it’s there you’ll find Joe Hill!
    I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
    alive as you and me.
    Says I “But Joe, you’re ten years dead”
    “I never died” said he,
    “I never died” said he.

  14. Ben holds a place in history that few will attain. One of the founding members of the famed Yippee’s with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, the organizer of Harvestfest for 39 years, a tireless advocate of hemp legalization and marijuana reform, organized the first all-hempseed public meal, supporter of individuals and causes for over 40 years, the youngest person on Richard Nixon’s enemies list, the man who literally spit in the eye of the establishment (in the person of facist Senator Henry Jackson), and a real friend (not just an acquaitance) to thousands, Ben not only was loved and will be missed, he will be in the minds of those he touched and cared for during a life of pure activism.

  15. I went to the 1997 Ferryville festival. we drove up from rock island. i was an avid high times reader and I thought Ben was so cool and couldnt wait to meet him. so we get there and drive up to the top of the hill and there is Ben directing things. we pull up next to him to ask him where to camp and somehow i put the truck into reverse instead of park. he walked up to the drivers side (i was driving) and leaned in a bit while talking. I stepped off the brake to hand him a bud of the fresh we brought and ran him over with the side mirror. rip Ben you were such a good sport. great man.

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