The Cannabis Community Mourns New York Activist Doug Greene

The cannabis legalization movement lost one of its most dedicated activists with the sudden and untimely passing of Doug Greene. A New York City local and member of the drug policy reform movement for more than three decades, Greene served as legislative director, board member, and lifetime member of Empire State NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). He passed away Tuesday evening in a subway accident on Manhattan's Upper West Side. He was only 52. His death hit the cannabis community hard.

Greene touched the lives of many, including those who may never have had the opportunity to meet him. Civilized would like to take a moment to celebrate his life and share how meaningful it was to everyone he met and many whom he had not.

Greene was ubiquitous on the cannabis activism scene, whether there was a rally in Albany or a fundraiser or gathering hosted by one of the NYC's local organizations like High NY or Cannagather. He even went so far as to travel to California in 2010 to help campaign for Prop 19, the state's original initiative to legalize adult use cannabis.

According to one of Greene's many obituaries, “While he enjoyed a good marijuana protest as much as anybody, Greene focused his attention on Albany and the legislative process, mastering parliamentary arcana and lobbying lawmakers regularly — some of them might say relentlessly.”

Michael Zaytsev ("Mike Z"), founder of cannabis meetup group High NY, called Green a "true cannabis champion": "For decades, he fought for cannabis justice, not because of profit potential, glamour, or for any self serving reason. He did it because he knew it was the right thing to do. He appreciated the power of healing plants, the sanctity of mother nature, and our collective responsibility to be compassionate and kind to all living beings. His passing is a huge loss for the High NY community. He was immensely knowledgeable, passionate in his determination for progress, and yet light-hearted and easy to work with.”

Simply told, Greene, who was already tired after a long night of standing at an outdoor P-Funk concert in Central Park, was burning the candle at both ends, often working late into the night. He would contact his colleagues from email Empire State NORML at all hours, sending emails at 3 am and making phone calls at 7 — before a full day's work at a law firm. Sometimes, he would fall asleep at events. Exhaustion most likely played a factor.  

Five separate eyewitnesses, including the train conductor, observed Greene's fall to the tracks. To put to rest any theories that Greene was pushed to his death, those who saw him moments before his passing say that no one was within 10 feet of him when he "slumped over and fell into the track" while the train was approaching, an NYPD detective told Civilized. After standing for hours at an outdoor concert, he was tired and potentially dehydrated.

It likely wasn't suicide either. He had just started a new job, was knee-deep in the current legislative session in Albany, and was active in the vegan community. He owned a beloved marshmallow of a canine companion, Skooter. Greene had absolutely everything to live for personally and professionally.

“While often soft-spoken and unassuming, Doug Greene was an intellectual powerhouse to be reckoned with. He epitomized professionalism and passion in his quest to further the dialogue of drug policy in America and legalization of cannabis in New York State,” says David Holland, executive director of Empire State NORML, who spoke with Greene on a daily basis. “He was fiercely committed to the causes he believed in and was always gracious in discussing these issues even with his opponents."

Politicians and legal professionals would often ask Greene for his opinion on the language of proposed legislation, Holland adds. "The realization of that objective [to legalize cannabis in New York] which will undoubtedly happen could not have been fully realized without the tremendous efforts that Doug undertook to make it so.”

Holland describes his friend as very open minded and committed to being inclusive of everyone that he could in his personal life. “He had an immense hunger to learn. He was a man of many interests, which spanned the spectrum from animal rights, veganism, to the music scene. The breadth of his knowledge was only surpassed by his generosity to indulge others in conversations where he could learn more about them and discuss critically why we each believe what we do and why.”

In a touching obituary, NORML honored the life of one of their most dedicated members. He was described as "one of the most respected authorities on cannabis legislation." As a paralegal, he applied his knowledge of law and policy to his activism: "Whether it be providing input and testimony to various legislative bodies, advising foreign dignitaries at the State Department, delivering education to communities on complex legislative issues, his opinion was highly sought after, providing unique insights and vision."

Greene would likely want people to channel their grief into positive energy for the movement and take up his mantle in the fight to legalize cannabis with social equity in New York. According to his friends and colleagues at NORML, Greene’s signature catchphrase was “Cannabis Excelsior.” Excelsior is Latin for “ever upward.”  

His most recent efforts were focused on New York's Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) In fact, many of those in the cannabis community are unofficially calling it the Greene Bill, in Doug’s honor.

Photo taken by Steve Bloom at the NYC Cannabis Parade

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