Nate Bradley: From Cop To Cannabis Activist
In this article, Nat Bradley, Executive Director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, tells us how medical cannabis gave him a second chance at life and what drove him from ex-lawman to cannabist activist.
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Nate Bradley was the oldest of six kids. He was homeschooled by his mother, and his father was a pastor. He sums up his upbringing in one simple, honest sentence:
“We were a VERY conservative household.”
His weekends as a kid were spent helping his parents. They were both activists, so little Nate would tag along to help them organize non-profit organisations and participate in charitable activities to help the local community.
“We would feed the homeless or build homes for people, especially when the USSR fell and the US experienced a big spout of Russian immigration. My parents would help organizations find ways to absorb all the people that were coming over here,” Nate said.
It goes without saying that both of his parents were morally opposed to cannabis and cannabis users. Yet, they somehow managed to raise what many Californian’s consider to be the most important cannabist lobbyist currently leading the legalization movement.
Nate has put himself in the spotlight and has worked hard to bridge the gap between cannabis activists and lawmakers to create a regulated, safe, and reliable market for cannabis in California. But that wasn’t always the plan; before becoming a cannabist lobbyist, Nate spent over 10 years working in law enforcement and defense investigation, fulfilling a number of roles including city Police Officer, Deputy Sheriff and Criminal Defense Investigator.
“After a few years working in law enforcement I really began to challenge my beliefs about cannabis. I had come across patient after patient who had been helped by cannabis,” he said.
Cannabis first became prominent in California in 1996, after state voters approved Proposition 215 with a 55% majority, allowing patients with chronic illnesses (such as cancer, anorexia, AIDS, and chronic pain) AND their designated primary caregivers to possess and cultivate marijuana for medicinal purposes. It was around this time that Nate met one patient that he remembers to this day.
“I remember going to my very first grow site as a police officer along with two narcotic agents. The guy answered the door in a wheelchair. He was missing a leg. He had sixteen plants in his backyard, and he stared at me and the two officers standing at his door and explained that those plants were for him. I specifically remember him saying ‘that shit helped me get off all the pills I have been taking.’ That really made a lightbulb go off in my head, and I started wondering why we made cannabis so hard to access when so many people find it extremely helpful,” said Nate.
During his years as a police officer, Nate mainly worked with local communities and neighborhoods to reduce crime, and experienced numerous traumatic and high-stress incidents. After about four years on the job he was suffering daily panic attacks, and struggled to sleep at night due to recurring nightmares. He hoped for things to get better and that he’d eventually become “desensitized and jaded,” but it never happened. His anxiety just grew stronger, and his panic attacks became more frequent.
Nate began working with his doctor to tackle these issues. He was prescribed a regimen of anti-anxiety, anti-depression, and sleep medications, as well as medication to regulate his high blood pressure. He was later diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, and his doctors also discovered he had four pinched nerves in his back that had been the cause of extreme pain when performing basic tasks such as bending over.
Nate found himself swallowing about nine pills per day, each one riddled with side effects that made him feel like “a walking zombie” and fluctuate between being “spaced-out” and panicky. He was drinking on a daily basis to self-medicate.
At this stage in his career Nate was working as a Criminal Investigator, specializing in death investigations. He soon realized the harm he was doing to his own body.
“Most of the cases I investigated involved people who had overdosed on prescription pills, and I got seriously scared that I was heading down that path,” he said.
This is when he first started investigating the possibility of using cannabis to treat both his PTSD and the sever back pain he was experiencing on a daily basis.
He also reached out to some of his colleagues from the police force, and was surprised to learn that many of them had considered using cannabis medicinally as well. Nate still remembers the day he decided to give cannabis a go.
“On Monday, October 5th, 2009, I woke up and experienced a panic attack. I walked out of my bedroom into the living room and saw my prescription pills on a shelf, and a bottle of booze sitting on the counter. I looked at both of those things and told myself ‘if you keep doing that you’re going to kill yourself. You’re going to die,” said Nate.
More than ever, cannabis seemed like a viable alternative. The following Friday, Nate drove across town to someone who he knew who sold cannabis, and tried it for the very first time that night.
“The minute I tried it I felt about 30 years worth of anxiety fall off my shoulders all at once. Then I noticed the difference in my back. I went inside and slept for about 12 hours, which was the first time I had done that in years. When I woke up the next day, I knew it [cannabis] had changed my life,” he said.
Roughly one week later, Nate was clocking off his shift when his Chief told him that he was going to be let go due to budget cuts. His condition worsened; he began drinking more regularly, and his weight ballooned to 450 pounds.
In one last attempt to change his life, Nate turned his back on what he had been taught as a child and began medicating with cannabis more regularly to treat his anxiety, PTSD, and the back pain he was reminded of every time he tried to bend over to pick something up. Fast forward four months, and Nate’s life had changed completely.
“I was off every prescription pill I was taking, I lost about 120 pounds, and I basically got a restart at life,” he said.
Nate began further investigating cannabis and visiting dispensaries, and soon he realized that the cannabis industry in California was facing alot of problems. There was a lack of rules and regulations regarding how the product was manufactured and sold, and patients were still being arrested for possession. That’s when he decided to join the team and become an activist.
He started by speaking publicly about his experience with cannabis and how it helped him treat his condition, and was launched into the legalization movement when he became a spokesperson for the Yes to Proposition 19 Campaign in 2010.
After Prop 19 failed, Nate founded Bradley Consulting and Investigations, where he helped cannabis cultivators and dispensaries meet their legal requirements. He quickly saw the need for clearer rules and regulations to empower the industry and hold it accountable.
At the end of 2011 Nate was approached by a group of cannabis farmers from Yuba County, where he previously served as a law enforcement officer, who wanted his help to work with local government on an ordinance.
“I noticed that there wasn’t an organized voice representing the cannabis business interests, and there’s always strength in numbers,” said Nate.
He helped these farmers form the Yuba County Growers Association, and a year later they passed an ordinance that both the YCGA and local authorities agreed with. By the end of 2012, Nate formed the California Cannabis Industry Association to unite cannabis professionals from across the entire state and provided them with a clear voice to address the state government with regarding cannabis law.
Since then, Nate has been working to represent cannabis companies and unite them with lawmakers in California in order to establish an industry that is well-regulated. When we asked him what his parents thought about his decision to become a cannabis activist, he laughed.
“They were a little shocked at first. It took me about five minutes to win my mom over, and about five months to win my dad over. I’ll never forget the day I told him. But after seeing me use cannabis every day, he couldn’t deny that it was helping me and that his beliefs about marijuana making you dumb or lazy weren’t true” said Nate.
Now Nate couldn’t be happier. Together with the CCIA, he is helping California build a network of clear regulations and rules that will allow the cannabis industry to expand, evolve, and eventually mature.
One of the biggest legislative victories in California’s cannabis history is the passing of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, signed in by Governor Jerry Brown in October 2015. This collection of bills helps to establish a licensing and regulation framework under The Bureau of Marijuana Regulation, The Department of Consumer Affairs, and The Department of Public Health.
“It’s been very much a wild west out here in the past, and these bills will help to establish clear laws that’ll help California’s cannabis industry grow and prosper,” said Nate. And we’re already getting a taste of just how much the industry may grow.
In 2014, Fusion estimated that California’s cannabis industry raises over $109 million in tax revenue every year. Meanwhile the state raised just over $140,000 in taxes from alcohol in 2013, according to the Tax Policy Center. Now the national cannabis industry is expected to grow to be worth more than $7 billion by the end of this year, and over $22 billion by 2020.
But Nate says the money shouldn’t be the only thing driving people to push for legalization.
“Cannabis is helping people turn their lives around. We need to build a clear, regulated system that protects everyone involved in its production AND consumption. Patients shouldn’t be getting hassled by the law, grow sites and dispensaries should know what rules they have to abide by, and people should have simple access to it whether they use it for medicinal purposes, or whether they just want to relax and smoke a joint at the end of the day rather than drink a beer,” he said.
And despite the recent legislative victories, Nate admits that there's still alot of work to be done. In order for the legalization movement to be successful, it is going to take a lot of hard work and compromise from both industry professionals and lawmakers.
“The biggest challenge to cannabis legalization is fear. Blind fear is the problem, so what we need to do is not so much just educate people, but educate people with open eyes. That’s what it is going to take to move forward with this,” he said.
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