In the olden days of cannabis prohibition, people like Rick Pfrommer, who worked at NORML’s Washington, DC office, stood out. I met Pfrommer, Doug McVay and Loey Glover when I first started covering NORML and the legalization movement for High Times in the late ’80s. They were a small group of NORML staffers who fought the good fight during the worst days of the drug war. Reagan and Bush had obliterated the decriminalization efforts of the ’70s. NORML was hanging on by a thread as was High Times.
On April 3, Pfrommer passed away. The cause is not yet known. He was 53.
Elan Rae reported it at Facebook on April 4.
Pfrommer was better known for his many years at Harborside Health Center in Oakland, where he was the chief buyer, a position admired by all. He did intake and appeared in the Weed Wars series on Discovery in 2011.
He left Harborside in 2015 after nearly 10 years and began consulting and writing. I was editor of Freedom Leaf at the time. He reached out to me for assignments. Rick traveled a lot to foreign events, so he started covering them for me.
His first article in 2016 was a dispatch from Cambodia. He wrote:
“Cambodia’s Southeastern coast – it’s only coastline – is famous for two crops: Kampot peppers and cannabis. The marijuana grown in Kampot is exclusively sativa, as one would expect in Southeast Asia. The loose, immature lower grades available have no real calyx structure and contain seeds; they tend to be electric-green in color, with lots of red hairs. Surprisingly, though, some are real creepers, and a half hour or so after smoking you’ll be spacing out on the ocean or the rustle of the coconut palms.”
He also covered the Bio Cup in Spain that year. “Although Spain’s climate is perfect for outdoor cultivation, most growing takes place in urban areas like Barcelona,” Rick noted. “Critical Jack and Jack Widow were easily the strongest strains I sampled.”
"Rick Pfrommer was among a small group of NORML staffers who fought the good fight during the worst days of the drug war."
Another destination article of his was set in Medellín, Colombia where he attended Expo Mede Weed. “Countries like Colombia and Jamaica, with their history of high-quality cannabis production and extremely low labor costs, are poised to once again be players in the international cannabis market,” he rightly predicted.
Pfrommer debunked the relevance of the terms “indica” and “sativa” in an article I asked him to write. He quoted Dr. Ethan Russo, “The sativa/indica distinction commonly applied in the lay literature is total nonsense and an exercise in futility,” and added: “For almost three decades these simplistic definitions have been widely believed and disseminated.”
Freedom Leaf was sold and stopped publishing in 2019. With the end of the magazine, I wasn't giving out assignments and lost touch with him. Today, I learned from another longtime canna-friend Debby Goldsberry about Rick.
Goldsberry recalls, “The first time I met Rick was in 1989 on Dead tour in Virginia or Maryland when he was working at NORML. I was running a little NORML booth. He had never seen me before and thought I was an imposter, so he came up and like interrogated me.
“We had some incredible adventures at the Butternut House in Washington, DC and out on the road on Dead Tour, Hemp Tour, Rainbow Gatherings and more. It was so much fun.”
The Butternut House referenced was a large residence on Butternut St. in the Washington (a.k.a. The Nuthouse) where McVay and Glover lived with Steve DeAngelo and others. DeAngelo would move to Oakland and co-found Harborside.
“Rick and I met at NORML, probably on my first day at the office, which was Monday Nov. 2 1987,” McVay details. “Rick and his roommate were both students at American University and interning at NORML when I started my job there as Projects Coordinator. They helped me feel welcome in a new city. We moved into a house together in the Glover Park neighborhood in summer 1988, then to the Nuthouse, which we helped found, in 1989.”
He especially remembers “one trip that Rick made with Brian Murphy to the Midwest for a festival. They had a bunch of lighters with the NORML logo with them. The lighters were in the back of the pickup. It was a sunny day. As they were driving along they heard this popping noise, then another and another and when they looked back they saw the tarp was on fire.”
Goldsberry recalls an adventure with Pfrommer that started with trading “an eighth of weed for a super beat-up old car on the Dead lot.” They then drove the heap from the East Coast to Chicago “for the next shows where we traded it to get an eighth of weed," she goes on. "The windshield was cracked like a kaleidoscope and who knows who that thing was registered to. Wow, those were really the good old days.”
In sum, McVay offers: "Rick was sharp, clever, creative, kind and had a great sense of humor. I will always miss him."
Rick Pfrommer: Activist, Deadhead, Cannabis Connoisseur, Friend. RIP.