Over the past eight years of my activism I’ve met so many wonderful people who work so hard to end marijuana prohibition. But just outside our bubble of reformers many of us have friends, family or co-workers who either don’t know or don’t understand why we do what we do.

That has to change if we want true reform.

The gay rights movement made significant strides by “coming out of the closet.” It is more difficult to hate Bruce the hairstylist or Patty the mechanic than to hate a demonized abstraction of “gay.” Maybe Bruce does your sister’s hair; Maybe Patty fixes your brother’s work truck. When people can think of Bruce and Patty as ordinary people and not simply “gay," society starts to question why we should deny them the right to marry whom they love or maintain a career or join the military.

We have to come out of the hot box if we ever want equality with beer drinkers. That’s my standard. Until smoking a joint has no more social stigma and legal control than drinking a beer, we are not truly free.  Until growing some home pot plants is as legal as brewing some home beer, we are not truly equal. “We’re here, we’re high, get used to it!” Granted, this view is purely from a social standpoint: gay people are born that way, recreational pot smokers choose to smoke. But remember, those that are sick need pot as medicine; they do not choose to be sick.

The cannabis community is an iceberg. The tip that the mainstream sees above the water line consists of the fringe, from the fortunate and self-sufficient to the downtrodden with nothing to lose, anti-authoritarians, piercings, dreadlocks and tattoos; basically, the people who can be open about their cannabis use without fearing reprisal. And bless them all, for they got us as far as we have come.

But below that water line are the doctors, teachers, plumbers, lawyers, cops and so many more that are the real bulk of the cannabis community -- the people with something to lose if they are known to be cannabis consumers. In this respect, we lack the courage of the people in the gay community, who faced all the job loss and family drama we face and more by coming out of the closet. Sure, for the most part, being gay wouldn’t get you arrested and imprisoned, but smoking a joint usually won’t get you bullied and beaten and killed.

Rick Steves, the PBS European travel guru, once said, “Be the kind of cannabis consumer people can’t help but like.” Remember as legalization unfolds, we are the ambassadors of our community. Find a way to become active if you can by joining your local NORML or college SSDP chapter. If none exist, contact those organizations and learn how to form your own -- they truly are “grassroots” organizing. Come out to someone you care about or work with. Let them see the guy or gal they know and love is no different just because he or she smokes pot. Activism starts with a-c-t, so act now!