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Wisconsin Marijuana and Free Speech Activist Ben Masel Has Died

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #682)
Politics & Advocacy

Wisconsin free speech and pot legalization activist Ben Masel died in a Madison hospice Saturday of complications from a months-long struggle with lung cancer. He was 56 years old.

Born in the Bronx and raised in New Jersey, Masel moved to Madison in 1971 and became a fixture of the counter-culture scene in the decades since then. Masel was the director of the Wisconsin state NORML chapter in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and served as state NORML vice-president for the past decade.

He had hoped to attend the national NORML conference in Denver last month for one last hurrah, but complications from his cancer treatments left him too ill to attend. Instead, NORML honored him with a marijuana legalization lifetime achievement award that was accepted by Wisconsin NORML members in attendance.

A hard-core civil libertarian, Masel repeatedly challenged state and local officials who sought to shut him up -- and won repeated free speech cases, with resulting cash settlements, in state and federal courts. He frequently joked that that was a great way to make a living -- as long as you could wait indefinitely to get paid.

Ben Masel.jpg
Masel also made repeated forays into electoral politics, running in 1990 as a Republican primary challenger to Gov. Tommy Thompson on a hemp legalization platform, and two years later gaining 7,000 votes as the Democratic candidate for Dane County sheriff. In that campaign, he said he would "fight real crime: end the drug war." In 2006, he challenged Sen. Herb Kohl in the Democratic primary and picked up 15% of the vote against the popular incumbent.

Although he was diagnosed with cancer in January and was in the midst of treatments, Masel was energized by the mass protests in Madison in March and managed to get to the capitol to participate. One of the last activist images of Masel is him holding up a sign in a capitol corridor announcing an "Emergency Test of the Free Speech Network."

Ben was always a fixture at national marijuana policy conferences. We spent many a smoke-break outside together, comparing notes and plotting strategies. I will miss him as a friend and colleague, but the movement is now missing one of its champions.

- Phillip Smith

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


bp storm (not verified)

Long live Ben Masel.  Long live Ben Masel.  I knew the man briefly from talking to him at various events.  Voted for him in his run against Thompson(for which I had to register Republican(sic) and then received their propaganda for a couple of years).  Ben was a good person.  I have already seen it suggested that he got what he deserved(lung cancer).  But, the fact is you can get lung cancer from a lot of different reasons, there are people out there that have gotten lung cancer and never smoked anything in their whole life.  But, it is all a mystery as to why Ben got his as there are recent studies that suggest that reefer protects you from lung cancer.  At least they show that chronic users are less likely to get lung cancer than those that don't even smoke, and certainly less than those that smoke the legal tobacco.  As I said before, Long Live Ben Masel.

Thu, 05/05/2011 - 3:36pm Permalink
Blitzbiker (not verified)

I found myself. Last night, I read about Eddy Lepp so I am sorry for him in the federal prison.

I got to read the news here today. I relieve that Ben Masel experienced throughout the national marijuana policy conferences. We thank for him as fought for U.S. government law.  In Wisconsin country is so great.  

Shall we have a new "Sachs Law" why not new book call is "Cannabis Botany Chapter"

Medical Association suppose to take care of the marijuana legal, not Federal Gov..

Harry Anslinger should put the death penalty for murder case.


Supporter Medical Marijuana Legalization,


Tue, 06/14/2011 - 5:56pm Permalink

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