The cannabis industry is growing rapidly. In the past six years, we’ve seen the rise of several venture capital firms, countless tech startups, and miraculous research. But, in this burgeoning field, who is taking the lead? This list of the top 50 people to watch in the cannabis space is filled with entrepreneurs, researchers, and activists alike. It’s important to note, it is difficult to name just 50 industry leaders. There are many more key players out there that deserve recognition. This list is presented in no specific order, but there’s no doubt that these cannabis rock stars deserve some appreciation.
1. Ethan Russo
Ethan Russo is a medical cannabis pioneer. A neurologist and Medical Research Director of Phytecs, Russo has contributed to dozens of research papers on cannabis and the potential for cannabinoid medicines.
Russo is the scientist behind the Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency hypothesis. He is the former Senior Medical Advisor to GW Pharmaceuticals and is currently working on new therapies that target the endocannabinoid system.
2. Nicole Smith
Nicole Smith is the founder and President, Mary’s Medicinals. Mary’s Medicinals revolutionized the world of cannabis topicals through transdermal application. They sell cannabinoid-infused patches that deliver cannabis therapies through the skin.
Last year, she was named Outstanding Woman in Business by the Denver Business Journal.
3. Rob Kampia
Rob Kampia is the founder and executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). MPP began in 1995 and has since influenced state specific legalization campaigns for over the past decade.
The organization is the largest 501(c)(4) nonprofit in the U.S. that is solely dedicated to ending cannabis.The organization is the largest 501(c)(4) nonprofit in the U.S. that is solely dedicated to ending cannabis prohibition. MPP backed five of the 2016 cannabis legalization campaigns.
4. Wanda James
Wanda James and Scott Durrah were the first African Americans to own a cannabis dispensary and edibles company in Colorado. Professional restauranteurs, the two have placed their wealth of business acumen into the growing cannabis industry.
James worked to bring medical cannabis to Colorado in the early days, and she also worked rigorously to pass Colorado’s legalization bill Amendment 64. Now, she is the director of the Global Cannabis Initiative (GCI). GCI helps businesses establish themselves in the industry. It also works with legislators to develop effective cannabis policy.
5. Kristi Knoblich
Kristi Knoblich is a co-founder of KIVA Confections, one of the most successful edibles companies around. Knoblich and KIVA’s other co-founder, Scott Palmer, wanted to create an infused product that was consistently reliable, effective, and enjoyable.
They launched KIVA, which is now one of the most recognizable medical cannabis brands in the massive state of California. They also offer their products in Arizona.
6. Hugh and Chris Hempel
Hugh Hempel is a tech superstar. After his twin daughters were born with a debilitating and life-threatening disease, Hempel and his wife Chris changed their mind about medical cannabis.
The two came out of early retirement and founded Strainz, a burgeoning cannabis brand in Nevada. Strainz hopes to expand into Colorado and Washington as well.
7. Jazmine Hupp
Fortune Magazine has called Jazmine Hupp a “genius entrepreneur”. She co-founded Women Grow, a group which seeks to bring diversity into the cannabis space. Women Grow holds events in over 30 cities. Hupp’s goal is to train over 1,000 women to start their own cannabis businesses.
Prior to joining the industry as Women Grow’s CEO, Hupp successfully launched six companies in retail, eCommerce, business services, and media.
8. Guillermo Velasco
Dr. Guillermo Velasco, Ph.D., is one of several notable scientists from a research team that is spearheading cannabis and cancer research. He is an Associate Professor of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Complutense University of Madrid. Dr. Christina Sanchez and Dr. Manuel Guzman are two other figures that also deserve recognition.
Thanks to these researchers, we know that cannabinoids kill brain and breast cancer cells in cell line and animal models. The team hopes that human trials of cannabinoid therapies will also be effective.
9. Dr. Jacqueline Thao Nguyen
Dr. Jacqueline Thao Nguyen the chief formulator of Ensohara, a new brand of high-CBD hemp oil. In 2009, she was awarded Best Clinical Pharmacist in San Diego. In addition, she is the founder of a California-based supplement company Dr. J’s Naturals.
She is passionate about cannabis and natural treatments. A jack of all trades, she also reaches out to Vietnamese Americans through the TV Vietnamese Broadcasting Services (VBS) called “DOI SONG LANH MANH.” There, she educates communities about healthy lifestyles and new medical treatments.
10. Steve and Andrew DeAngelo
The DeAngelo brothers are well-known for their activism and serious business skills. The brothers have been working together for over a decade as founders of California’s legendary Harborside Health Center, the largest cannabis dispensary in the world.
Steve is also the Co-founder and president of ArcView Group, a company which connects investors to viable cannabis ventures. Both of the DeAngelos speak out about cannabis entrepreneurship, legalization, therapeutic value, and financing.
11. Mara Gordon
Mara Gordon got into the cannabis industry after battling her own medical issues. Since, she has co-founded Aunt Zelda’s Inc, which makes high-quality cannabis extracts for Californian patients. As Chief Process Engineer, Gordon helps develop precision cannabis products that effectively meet the protocol requirements of different medical conditions.
Gordon takes nearly every opportunity possible to educate the public on the benefits of medical cannabis. Gordon is one of the industry leaders in regards to effective cannabinoid treatments for cancer.
12. Krishna Andavolu
Krishna Andavolu is the journalist behind Viceland TV’s hit series “Weediquette”. Thank’s to Andavolu’s entertaining presence, millions of people worldwide are exposed to the benefits of medical cannabis and the trials and tribulations of the emerging cannabis industry.
Weediquette is worth a watch for the cannabis uninformed and industry professionals alike.
13. Scott Van Rixel
Bhang Chocolates is an incredibly successful edible company headed up by CEO Scott Van Rixel. Bhang is based out of California, but now sells products in seven states, Washington D.C. and three countries.
Bhang also offers cannabis concentrates and other products like infused mints. All in all, this is one of the largest edibles brands around, and they just keep getting bigger.
14. Gaynell Rogers
Gaynell Rogers is the co-founder and director of Bloom Cannabis Group. Bloom is a full-service PR and marketing company for the cannabis space.
They have some major accounts, too, including legendary Harborside Health Center, SPARC dispensary, and ArcView Group.
15. Keith McCarty
Searching for on-demand delivery cannabis? Keith McCarthy founded Eaze hoping to be the Uber of the cannabis world. So far, they service over 100,000 medical cannabis patients in California.
He has also recently launched EazeMD, which quickly connects patients to recommending doctors, and recently appointed Jim Patterson to the role of CEO of Eaze.
16. Snoop Dogg
There’s no doubt about it. Snoop Dogg is blowing up the cannabis industry. It’s difficult to find someone more on point or more influential than this guy.
Snoop recently launched Leafs by Snoop, his own premium brand of cannabis. He’s also played a major activist role, touring the country with a pro-herb message and regularly appearing on various media.
17. David Dinenberg
Kind is a seed to sale tracking and financial software that seeks to help governments and cannabis businesses on the regulation front.
18. Brian Vicente
Looking for an excellent cannabis attorney? Brian Vicente is your guy. He works at the forefront of the rapidly changing cannabis legal front. Partner at Vicente Sederberg LLC., Vicente’s firm has been dubbed “the Marijuana Law Firm” in Denver, Colorado.
Vicente not only helps clients navigate the complicated legal world of cannabis, but he has played a major role in shaping Colorado’s cannabis policy. Vicente has worked with governments to help create laws that are fair and effective. Rolling Stone called Vicente Senderberg LLC the first “powerhouse marijuana law firm”.
19. Tista Ghosh
Tista Ghosh is an M.D. and received her Masters in Public Health from Yale University. She now works for the Colorado Department of Public Health and is spearheading public health campaigns around responsible cannabis use.
20. Al Foreman
Al Foreman is the Chief Investment Officer and a Partner at Tuatara Capital. In their last investment round, Tuatara raised over $93 million.
This amount was beyond their expectations, exceeding their goal by $13 million. The firm has four main investment areas, cultivation, processing, consumer retail, and research and testing.
21. Dale Sky Jones
Dale Sky Jones has had many successes in the cannabis industry. She is the Executive Chancellor of Oaksterdam University, propelling education about sustainable cultivation practices. She is the chairwoman of the board of directors for the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform.
- Jones has been highlighted as one of California’s most valuable reform advocates. She has been interviewed by countless mainstream media outlets and was dubbed by Marie Claire as one of the top women in the cannabis industry.
22. Justin Trudeau
Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, made big reform promises during his campaign. But, Canadians are still waiting to see those promises become reality.
A task force has been created that is looking into the most effective ways to legalize recreational cannabis in Canada. They recently delivered a report on their findings, that include making the legal age for purchasing cannabis 18.
23. Troy Dayton
Troy Dayton is definitely a man to watch over the coming years. A board member for the Marijuana Policy Project and CEO of ArcView Group, Dayton has made a big name for himself in the industry.
- He also founded the National Cannabis Industry Association and is a co-founder for Students For Sensible Drug Policy. If you’re searching for a surefooted industry leader, look no further.
24. Tripp Keber
Tripp Keber is the CEO of Dixie Brands, one of the world’s largest brands of infused cannabis products. Dixie products are available in four states.
The company manufactures everything from chocolates, beverages, and mints to tinctures and topicals. Though based in Colorado, Dixie is sure to expand as the legalization environment continues to change.
25. Fiona Ma
Fiona Ma, CPA and Chairwoman Board of Equalization, has big plans for California’s medical cannabis industry. Regulation of the industry has been lackluster thus far in its 20-year history.
Ma has already worked with Governor Brown on building transparency for the industry and giving counties more ability to zone and levy taxes on cannabis businesses. Many medical cannabis dispensaries may not be happy about this, but Ma is certainly someone to watch.
26. Whoopi Goldberg
Everyone knows that Whoopi Goldberg is amazing. To add more accolades to the list, the Academy Award Winning actress has co-founded a cannabis company.
Whoopi & Maya makes a collection of cannabis bath products as well as tinctures. Designed with women in mind, their products are sure to be a big hit.
27. Wiz Khalifa
Recording artist Wiz Khalifa has launched his own cannabis line in partnership with RiverRock of Colorado. Khalifa has made a name for himself as a highly successful cannabis activist over the past several years.
Not only do many of his songs feature cannabis references, but he is well-known for being extremely open about his cannabis use and is a long-time pro-cannabis personality.
28. Charlo Greene
Charlo Greene made headlines after she very publically quit her job as a broadcast reporter in Alaska and declared that she was going into the cannabis business. Since, she began teaching home growing and cannabis education classes, and began working on the Alaska Cannabis Club. However, it hasn’t been an easy ride for Greene.
She currently faces prison charges for unlicensed cannabis distribution. In fact, she’s facing a whopping 54-year sentence. Greene has been a champion for cannabis reform in Alaska, so her predicament deserves attention.
29. Miguel Trinidad
Anthony Rivera is the CEO and Co-founder of CannaNative, a Native American owned and operated company created to hemp tribes navigate the cannabis space and develop hemp and cannabis-based economies.
In August of this year  Rivera announced the launch of the first-ever Native American cannabis product line to hit the Indian Country market.
30. Lance Williams
Lance Williams is the president and CEO of Nhale, an acquisition company that was just loaned $10 million by Toronto investment group, Four Twenty Investments Inc. They are currently in the process of evaluating acquisitions in Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Canada.
Their first product was a vaporizer pen, and they are currently looking at expanding into the indoor cultivation market. Prior to joining Nhale, Williams was a master grower at a 7,000 square foot horticulture operation.
31. Nicholas Vita
In 2015, Nicholas Vita was called “a pot-head who has never smoked”. He got into the cannabis business after giving his arthritic mother some cannabis topicals with success.
Regardless of the fact that he has never consumed himself, he has led a highly successful medical cannabis chain as the Chief Executive of Columbia Care LLC. Columbia Care has locations in Illinois, Arizona, California, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington D.C.
32. Dr. Dina
Once Snoop Dogg lays a nickname on you, it sticks for life – just ask “Dr. Dina,” his longtime friend, confidante and business associate. Dr. Dina is not a board-certified M.D., nor did she go to medical school – and she is always quick to remind people of such.
Rather, Dr. Dina received her nickname from Snoop for being one of the pioneers of the movement in Southern California to provide safe access to medical cannabis in accordance with Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, passed by the people of California in 1996.
33. Garyn Angel
Garyn Angel is an inventor, entrepreneur, award-winning financial consultant, and CEO of MagicalButter.com, which manufactures the appliance he invented for converting cannabis to edible form. Angel is committed to cannabis law reform and was named to the CNBC NEXT List of global business leaders for his work on legal marijuana.
He is also founder of the Cheers to Goodness Foundation, a charity that helps “medical refugees” – veterans and children who need cannabis therapy when traditional treatment options have failed. Angel’s charity helps families relocate to states where cannabis medicine is legally accessible.
34. Dr. Sue Sisley
Dr. Sue Sisley is a psychiatrist and independent researcher who is doing some great work in the medical cannabis field. A former assistant professor at the University of Arizona School of Medicine, she is currently working with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
35. Raj Mukherji
Raj Mukherji has quite an interesting position in the cannabis industry. He is a New Jersey Assemblyman, the CEO of Garden State Dispensary, and the general council for CannaPharmacy Inc.Mukherji’s political role gives him a leg up in canna-business.
He nicely straddles the line between policy and successful cannabis entrepreneur. He’s one of the first state politicians to directly engage in medical cannabis.
36. Justin Grover
As the CEO of GW Pharmaceuticals, Justin Grover isn’t exactly in the cannabis industry. The company creates pharmaceutical drugs derived from real cannabis plants.Their most successful drug is Sativex, an oral spray for multiple sclerosis.
37. Lori Ajax
Lori Ajax (R) has been called California’s first “marijuana czar”. She is part of the team in charge of regulating California’s medical cannabis dispensaries.
Ajax was recently appointed as the chief of the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation by Gov. Jerry Brown.
38. Keith Stroup
Many cannabis activists are already familiar with Keith Stroup. He’s an attorney who has done amazing work for cannabis legalization since the hippie era. Founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the industry would not be where it is today without Stroup’s activism.
- Today, legalization has more momentum than ever. This makes Stroup’s work even more important. Now is not the time to slow down efforts or clam up about cannabis reform. Stroup still continues to write and speak.
39. Tommy Chong
Chong has used cannabis throughout his battle with cancer, and now he’s expanding his top-quality cannabis line into more states.
40. Bethenny Frankel
Bethenny Frankel became a celebrity after debuting on hit reality show “Real Housewives of New York.” She is also a successful author, chef, businesswoman, and talk show host. She founded the company Skinnygirl Cocktails, and now, rumor has it she’s set her eyes on cannabis.
In tune with her Skinnygirl line, word is that she plans to launch a line of munchie-less cannabis products. However, these rumors have yet to be confirmed. All in all, this is one potential cannabis-hopeful to watch.
41. Willie Nelson
It’s common knowledge that Willie Nelson is a long-time cannabis activist. Yet, he has finally bridged the gap between herb enthusiast to successful cannabis business owner.
Willie Nelson’s new cannabis line Willie’s Reserve has recently hit dispensaries. You can find his products in Washington and Colorado.
42. Melissa Etheridge
Melissa Etheridge became a cannabis activist after using the herb to cope with cancer. Now, Etheridge is one of many celebrities to jump on the canna-business bandwagon.
She has plans to launch her own line of medical cannabis products, sold under the Etheridge Farms brand.
43. Heather Jackson
Heather Jackson is a supermom turned super cannabis activist. Thanks to her work, countless patients are able to access much-needed information and one-on-one medical cannabis consulting. Jackson is the CEO of Realm of Caring, an organization which she began after discovering that her son Zaki’s seizures were stopped by high-CBD cannabis.Realm of Caring helps medical cannabis patients access the precise treatment that they need.
The organization also supports cannabis research and houses one of the best cannabis research databases for free on their website. Jackson and the Realm of Caring team are true crusaders for medical cannabis. Their research is invaluable to the industry, patients, and the future of cannabis science.
44. Dr. William Courtney
Dr. William Courtney is the champion of raw cannabis juicing. He’s also the physician that oversaw cannabis treatment for an 8-month-old baby with a brain tumor. Using cannabis oil, the infant was able to recover from his life-threatening cancer without chemotherapy.
Dr. Courtney is very outspoken about the benefits of medical cannabis, regularly speaking at events and participating in interviews. His work is amazing and certainly something to keep an eye on.
45. Reggie Gaudino
Reggie Gaudino is the vice president of scientific operations at California-based Steep Hill Labs. Though new cannabis labs are popping up in cannabis-friendly states, Steep Hill is one of the most well-known. But, Gaudino has more than just THC and terpene levels on his mind. He is a geneticist that wants to crack the cannabis genome.
He hopes to use the wide variety of samples available at Steep Hill to get a clear picture of the genetic profile of different strains. This information, he hopes, will be useful to growers and breeders around the globe.
46. Richard Branson
Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of Virgin Group, is very outspoken about cannabis. In fact, he’s outspoken about the reform of all drugs. He is part of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a group which includes former world leaders who now advocate for an end to the international War on Drugs.
Branson was recently the Key Note Speaker at the New West Summit, a canna-business conference, and told industry leaders that they need to continue to push for reform. Branson’s interest in the cannabis space is a positive sign for many budding entrepreneurs.
47. Cy Scott
Cy Scott, along with Scott Vickers and Brian Wansolich became a big deal in the cannabis industry when the founded Leafly. But, the trio recently departed the company in order to start their next venture: Headset. Scott has assumed the position of CEO.
Headset is a business intelligence platform designed to help retailers keep an eye on the rapidly changing cannabis landscape. They also offer a dispensary intelligence program that keeps track of sales insights.
48. Isaac Dietrich
Isaac Dietrich is the co-founder and CEO of MassRoots, a social platform for cannabis lovers. He started the company when he was in his early twenties, after foregoing a college education to work on political campaigns. His youthful gamble became a huge success, and MassRoots is now an OCT traded company with nearly 1 million users.
Earlier this year, MassRoots ran into some money troubles. They failed to pain on a $966,000 debt. In spite of this downturn, the evolution of MassRoots is sure to be an interesting one.
49. Mark Hadfield
Want a medical cannabis recommendation from the comfort of your own home? Mark Hadfield, a serial entrepreneur, has launched HelloMD. HelloMD provides doctor consultations and medical cannabis authorizations over the phone.
This is one extremely promising program in a wave of California-based startups that aim to help you receive your cannabis and medical assistance via apps or Uber-like delivery services.
50. Rick Doblin
Rick Doblin is the founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). MAPS is an independent research organization of doctors and medical professionals that perform clinical trials of psychedelic substances with potential medical value.
Their research includes work on cannabis, MDMA, LSD, and ayahuasca for mental health conditions. Doblin has a doctorate in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. His ultimate professional goal is to build a legal space for the use of cannabis and psychedelics.
Thus far, MAPS has done amazing advocacy and research work in the area of medical cannabis. MAPS continues to be incredibly influential and important in the cannabis research space.