The Commonwealth’s enduring anti-prohibition column recalibrates. Don’t call it a Cannback.


In the late 1990s, as a head high school wrestling coach at Triton Regional High School in Byfield, Massachusetts, I was fiercely going at it with another competitive coach during an open mat off-season training in West Newbury.

I took him down a couple of times using my best offense, but after the third time, he was pissed. The fellow coach caught me in a perfect — a vicious — lateral drop, full force, and I hit the unforgiving mat at the base of my spine (L5-L6). I felt my legs go out, and I couldn’t get up. Crawling, I was helped out of the gym by Matt Cena, another wrestler in that day’s session, as well as by his older brother John (yes, that John Cena, though years before he joined the WWE), who helped lug me to my car.

A newspaper clip from Mike’s wrestling days

I probably should have called an ambulance, though I didn’t have any health insurance. For pain management, I became a medical marijuana patient, having to obtain medicine illegally for the first several years. Teaching public school students and the career that I later embarked on in financial services, I lived in fear of my employer finding out about my use of medical cannabis — especially prior to legislative wins in Massachusetts in 2008 (decriminalization) and 2012 (medical marijuana). Before that, any mention of pot in professional circles was a cause for concern. I’m not sure how much has changed for the general population, but in my case …

It wasn’t long before I was hosting fundraisers and becoming a force for reform, volunteering and later serving on the board of MassCann/NORML — all while being worried, like many other activists back then, that I might forfeit present or future employment by advocating for marijuana reform. In my case, at one point I was managing tens of millions of dollars worth of assets for thousands of customers at universities and hospitals like UMass-Boston and Brigham and Women’s. I had plenty to worry about, especially after my name and an accompanying picture appeared in High Times, and so I heeded the advice of local artist and punk rock legend Dave Tree, who I met booking fundraisers for MassCann.

“You know my name’s not really Dave Tree, right? You are Mike Cann. Be Mike Cann.” And so I was.

I started a blog, and organized protests, concerts, and events. I booked Onyx! I hosted “Two Hotheads” on UnRegular Radio, and started the weekly column Blunt Truth for DigBoston — all under the name Mike Cann. The same goes for my current show on WEMF Radio, The Young Jurks.

While I left the financial industry in 2010 — after too many sleepless nights worrying about my working class customers — and have been associated with cannabis reform in public under my government name, Mike Crawford, in the time since, I still used the byline and handle Mike Cann. For me, the moniker represented those who aren’t allowed to speak up because of their employment, or because they are worried about losing a job or a child custody case. For the tokin’ unheard.

Now, with exactly one year to go until Commonwealth residents pass an initiative for legal marijuana (UPDATE Nov. 2016 — Legalization won!), I am making a few token — tokin’ — changes. The first is that I will now write under the byline Mike Crawford, since it’s especially important in the current political climate to show people that marijuana users and patients are their friends, their family members, their co-workers. Secondly, in collaboration with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, I am also renaming my column The Tokin’ Truth, with a goal of expanding our former work on issues like criminal justice reform and sensible drug policy, and bringing even more guest contributions and commentary from reliable voices like Nichole Snow, Jill Hitchman-Osborn, Andy Gaus, and many more. You can still find us in DigBoston every week, but our plan is for The Tokin’ Truth to ring louder than ever before at this important moment in cannabis history.

P.S.: You can still call me Mike Cann, and I’m still @mikecannboston on Twitter.

Mike Crawford is a medical marijuana patient, the host of “The Young Jurks” on WEMF Radio, and the author of the weekly column The Tokin’ Truth, which is produced in coordination with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He formerly wrote the column Blunt Truth under the name Mike Cann.