With all the debate surrounding cannabis legalization, it can sometimes be easy to forget that there are real people behind the politics.  

New Jersey photographer Erica Brown is doing her part to change that.

Brown is the founder of the social media campaign The Cannabis Project, a photo series depicting real cannabis patients and their crucial relationships with the plant.

A scroll through the campaign’s Facebook page reveals patients like 49-year-old Dawn from Texas, who suffers from conditions including fibromyalgia, PTSD and arthritis holds up a sign reading: “No child should be taken over a plant.”

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There’s also 22-month-old Gabriel from Pennsylvania with Dravet syndrome, whose mom shows off a sign declaring: “cannabis should be my first option, not my last resort.”  

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The sign hoisted by Nicholas, 52, also from New Jersey, simply states: “It’s nice to see my daughter laugh again. Thank you, cannabis.”

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These are just a few examples in the growing series, which Brown captures along with fellow photographers Mike Wise and Amy King. The campaign is increasingly including photos taken and submitted by cannabis patients themselves.

The series, says Brown, is all about defying cannabis stereotypes and bringing the real people affected by legalization into the spotlight. 

“I wanted to give people a more personal look at cannabis users. There are all these stereotypes of the lazy stoner hippie which... hold back progress and keep people from getting the medicine they need,” said Brown, who’s been using cannabis to treat her Crohn’s disease for the last few years.

“When something turns into a big political battle, we tend to forget that there are real people behind it being affected, that people are actually dying because of a lack of access ... I like to think this campaign brings real people right to those politicians.”

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Erica Brown is the founder of The Cannabis Project

Roughly 80 people have so far shared their stories with the campaign, which has garnered close to 28,000 followers on Facebook. Brown says the sense of community she sees among the campaign’s supporters is continuously heart-warming – and never fails to remind her of why she launched the series in the first place.

“I love reading the comments on the posts because it shows that people are relating to the experiences of others... they’re coming together and helping each other out, offering advice or pointing each other in the right direction,” she said.

“The thing that’s amazed me the most is the strength of these people who are fighting for the end of cannabis prohibition ... Some of these people are very sick, so they’re using their limited energy to join this cause and help each other out.”

Above all, Brown hopes the campaign helps the voiceless feel as though they have a platform.

“Cannabis consumers feel silenced because it’s not the norm and it’s still federally illegal, but I think the more people stand up together, the better off we’ll be,” said Brown. 

“I think of this campaign as a way to make people more comfortable speaking out. They are not speaking out alone. They are speaking out together. We are speaking out together.”