My journey with cannabis began in June 2017, on a warm, overcast summer day in Boston. It was on that day that I smoked a joint of Deadhead OG for the first time.
I was visiting Fenway Park for a concert and I instantly became curious about all the plant had to offer. I began educating myself and, only eight months later, I became a patient in the NYS Medical Marijuana Program. At the time, I never thought cannabis would fundamentally shift my goals and aspirations in life.
Looking back on it, I can confidently say it has.
Previously, after I was diagnosed with epilepsy around age 13, pharmaceuticals were my go-to coping mechanism. Oftentimes, my anticonvulsant medications would double as mood stabilizers and would, sadly, lead to adverse mental health reactions, such as increasing and recurring thoughts of suicide.
Then, cannabis came into my life.
It improved my mental health; for the first time as a teenager, I was able to ignore the voice in my head that constantly told me I wasn’t good enough. Because of cannabis, I started requiring a smaller dosage of my medications, which significantly improved my quality of life.
After witnessing the benefits of cannabis firsthand, I felt a moral obligation to make cannabis more accessible and affordable for patients like myself and end the racist enforcement of cannabis laws in our city.
I became active in advocacy circles in Buffalo, changed my major from pharmaceutical sciences to political science, and led the Western New York chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws for over two years. I even made four weekday trips down to Albany to amplify community concerns and speak with legislators about salient issues like taxing structures, social justice, reinvestment, patient rights, vertical integration, home-growing and equity.
WNY NORML also appeared at local events like the Pride Parade, Elmwood Arts Festival and 4/20 Freedom Festival. In 2019, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) came to speak about the necessity of ameliorating the harms of the War on Drugs. We fought passionately for years, only to see the measure we cared about most be cut from the state budget.
When the pandemic arrived, it put a damper on the activities we had planned for the coming months and marked the end of in-person lobbying and rallies at the NYS Capitol. I stepped down in September 2020 after it became apparent our board of directors would not have the capacity to continue volunteering.
Despite the many roadblocks we faced, we never let up and made sure to hold our ground on the important aspects of the legislation. The bill that was signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo — allowing New Yorkers to possess up to three ounces of cannabis — was an amended version of advocates’ most sought-after piece of legislation: the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act.
Now, eight years after the introduction of the MRTA, New York is poised to establish one of the nation's most equitable adult-use programs.
To everyone who cheered me on, drove me to the Capitol and made it possible for me to do the work I did: I am forever grateful.
I will cherish everything from the late-night strategy discussions in Albany to the hustle of making it to 10 separate meetings in the Legislative Office Building.
Today our state made history, and I have hope that we will be able to set the green standard for sensible cannabis laws across the country. I am honored and humbled to be a part of this push for justice, destigmatization and a more inclusive society.
Jack Porcari is an assistant features and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack Porcari is the assistant features editor at The Spectrum. He is a political science major with a minor in law and journalism. Aside from writing and editing, he enjoys playing piano, flow arts, reptiles and activism.