By: Gary Smith
I received sad news yesterday evening that my friend and tireless cannabis advocate, Mikel Weisser Executive Director of Arizona NORML, died from a heart attack. Survived by his wife, Beth, Mikel was pervasively known and loved inside the Arizona cannabis world and outside as well.
I first met Mikel years ago at a NORML event. Besides having a birthday in common, albeit he a decade older, I quickly discovered that Mikel was also a fellow fan of historian Howard Zinn. Mikel and I bonded over random conversations about Zinn’s The People’s History of The United States. If you knew Mikel’s resume, being a Zinn fan was just another emblematic facet of Mikel’s altruistic character.
According to Mikel’s biography on Ballotpedia (Mikel had run for public office), Mikel worked as a plumber and homeless shelter manager prior to returning to college to earn his M.A. from the University of Illinois at Springfield. He also received his M.Ed. from Northern Arizona University. Sometimes armed with a guitar like a Woody Guthrie, (I think I once saw Mikel wear a This machine kills fascists pin), Mikel was a political activist on behalf of a variety of causes including NORML, Move On.Org, Amnesty International, Code Pink, and Phoenix’s End the War Coalition.
Un-avaricious, Mikel was always on the compassionate side of causes, and he supported education equality, restorative justice, compassionate borders, and environmental sustainability. If ever you had opportunity to observe Mikel at public events, one thing above all else shown through – Mikel was a full-time educator. He was always there trying to help people to come to greater knowledge and understanding, armed with booming voice and the soft smack down skills of a 7th grade social studies teacher. Mikel was the guy who never needed a microphone, his voice was that loud. Just like that imaginary social studies class, Mikel had a way of quieting crowds and getting them to listen. His enthusiasm was infectious, and like a Johnny Appleseed of good intentions he always tried to spread that enthusiasm to others. Mikel reminded us of the importance to have the character of giants among men, but the humility of men among giants.
With Mikel’s passing, the voice of Arizona’s cannabis community just became a little quieter. To honor his memory, the rest of us will make our voices a little louder to try to fill the hole left behind. You will be missed, my friend… the people’s friend.
Gary Michael Smith is an attorney and arbitrator and founding member of the Phoenix Arizona-based Guidant Law Firm. He is also a founding director and current president of the Arizona Cannabis Bar Association, board member of the Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, and contributing author to GreenEntrepreneur.