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: