Dan Stockwell Jr., Dublin, New Hampshire

Dan Stockwell has been a public advocate for medical cannabis for more than 30 years. He discovered its therapeutic value at age 14, a decade before he got the diagnosis that helped explain why it helped. Despite a great family life and high academic achievement, Dan had experienced emotional challenges his whole life. Cannabis changed that.

“When I first tried marijuana when I was 14, it was a realization and enlightenment in how it affected me,” Dan recalls. “I stepped out of suicidality and depression for the first time.”

Dan’s first thought was that he wanted to know what the danger associated with cannabis was. Just as immediately, he thought, “This is what I need.”

As he was finishing high school in 1985, the Rolling Stone review of Jack Herer’s just-published book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, caught his attention. He already knew a lot about the history of cannabis from the family Encyclopedia Britannica, but Herer’s account put it all together for him. When he left for college the next year and encountered Henry David Thoreau’s essay “On Civil Disobedience,” he found his calling.

“I realized this is what I believed in: I had a human right to marijuana, and it was a life-or-death thing,” Dan says. “I knew this gave me immediate breakthrough relief. Just in that respect, it told me everyone should have access.”

Dan struggled with his place and purpose in the world at Bates College, but he enjoyed the respect of his peers on campus, where he framed his open cannabis use as civil disobedience. After he graduated in 1989, he embarked on self-treatment experiments with a number of alternative substances to boost his mood, including l-tryptophan for a year until it was banned nationally after a bad batch came out.

“Those were my early lessons in the politics of mind chemistry,” Dan says.

Out of college, eager to show he could handle responsibility, Dan became an outdoor education leader, first as an instructor with NOLS, then working with emotionally disturbed boys in New Hampshire and a Massachusetts outdoor program for juveniles in lock up.

“I always tried to be as public as possible about my marijuana use,” Dan says. “That was tricky working for the court system with children, but I managed to do it.”

Through college, Dan had been breeding his own cannabis and self-medicating, so he rarely needed to use the underground market. Over the next seven years, Dan worked all over the country – California, Oregon, Colorado, Utah, Maine. Massachusetts, Vermont. As he traveled, cannabis was his calling card.

“My cannabis use allowed me close personal connection and brought me in people’s homes,” Dan recalls. “Along the way, I was getting seeds from best cannabis available. All my genetics were from before test-driven high-THC development, so more medicinal qualities are in them.”

Three of Dan’s phenotypes are now registered with Phylos.

Once back in New Hampshire, Dan continued to work in the shadows. A conservative state on cannabis policy, New Hampshire finally established a restrictive medical program in 2013, but the law does not include the condition Dan was finally diagnosed with as an adult: Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. In the last few years, 15 states have recognized Dan’s diagnosis as a qualifying condition -- based on patient petitions and research showing cannabis can treat even severe forms of autism that involve self-injury – but not New Hampshire.

“At the time, I didn’t feel comfortable at the statehouse because what I thought I knew of activism was more focused on recreational, which just didn’t resonate with me,” Dan recalls. “I had never been involved in 'the movement,' whatever that was in New Hampshire, because I believed it was hurting progress on legal therapeutic access.” He was determined to present himself as engaged in civil disobedience until the state added Asperger’s as a qualifying condition.

That changed last year when a 17mm kidney stone landed him in the hospital for what should have been a simple surgery. A medical mistake resulted in pleurisy in his lung, a succession of five chest tubes, and forcible restraints – an experience that left him down 40 pounds and with PTSD, a qualifying condition. Now he’s a registered patient in New Hampshire and has a registered nurse, Lisa Powers, as a designated caregiver.

“Dan has been an activist for freeing cannabis and ending the stigma for 30 or 40 years,” says Lisa, who co-administers with Dan the New Hampshire Affordable Safe Access Project (NHASAP) group he started on Facebook. “He’s always at the statehouse supporting patients and working for better laws. We’re trying to get personal cultivation now.”

Dan got involved with ASA in 2015, when he got a scholarship to attend the annual Unity conference in Washington, D.C. There he connected with other patient advocates and discovered a community that understood his experience (pictured with fellow New Hampshire advocate Heather Marie Brown at ASA's 2019 Lobby Day). He’s attended every year since, including this year’s online conference.

“ASA has been key to feeling validated,” Dan says. “The forces of cannabis prohibition here are real, but it is so clear that this is the keystone state on this issue. We’re the last stand in the northeast. Once it goes, the borders may go away.”

Dan has also been exploring hemp cultivation the past couple of years. After taking a course at Sterling College and other learning seminars, while attending a Northeast Organic Farming Association in Massachusetts (NOFA/Mass) event Dan became involved in a group to create a CBD-to-scale network that can compete with big ag. This group organized and became Northeast Sustainable Hemp Project (NOSHA), which functions primarily as a state-level advocacy group for small-scale hemp farming in Massachusetts.

It was at the founding NOSHA meeting that Dan connected with a group of Connecticut hemp farmers and later provided expert help with their cultivation problems throughout the 2019 season.

When he discovered that New Hampshire’s failure to apply for federal approval of a state hemp program meant he could get a hemp cultivation license directly from the US Department of Agriculture, he jumped at the chance.

“Dragging their feet on hemp backfired,” Dan says.

He is waiting for his FBI background check to clear so he can  apply for a USDA Hemp Producer license, and now he’s organizing others in New Hampshire to apply for licenses, as well. His friend and caregiver Lisa is one of them.

“He’s one of the smart ones, educating people with careful, factual information,” Lisa says. “It can be hard to keep up with him.

This profile was originally published in the April 2020 ASA Activist Newsletter