Ralph Seeley, attorney, Seattle HempFest icon

Washington State, Died January 22, 1998.

Ralph Seeley of Tacoma, WA, was a man of many parts: journalist, amateur pilot, out-doors man, cancer victim turned lawyer, and articulate & impassioned fighter for the right to use marijuana medicinally. In his last agonizing days he was embarking on a new project of learning to play the cello.

Photographed here by Peter Gorman, Ralph died after a long, agonizing battle with a slow growing chordoma of the spinal column over an eleven year time span. He was an articulate and passionate spokesperson for justice, having earned a law degree after the diagnosis of the cancer was made just so he could carry the battle for medical marijuana on in person from within the legal profession.

Ralph was a journalist for the Tacoma News Tribune. In 1987 he was diagnosed with a chordoma. a rare cancer of the spinal column. He left the newspaper in 1988 and became a champion for the right to use marijuana as a medicine. Instead of giving up on life he went to law school in order to be more effective in challenging the laws about medicinal marijuana. In the ensuing courageous 11 year battle against his cancer he suffered more than a dozen surgeries and the loss of one lung, and underwent the great agony of many courses of radiation & cancer chemotherapy.

Based on his own experience that smoking marijuana provided nearly instant relief from the severe nausea and vomiting from the chemotherapy and radiation, he became a very vocal advocate for its use. The synthetic form of THC, Marinol, was ineffective and usually couldn’t be retained orally after the onset of the nausea.

In 1994 he filed a law suit challenging the ban on medicinal use of marijuana, and in 1995 the Pierce County Superior Court on appeal found that the ban violated the State Constitution. The case was then appealed to the Washington State Supreme Court. There it was reversed in July 1997 on an 8-1 vote when the Court found that individuals do not have a right to drug therapy free of government police power which at that time barred medicinal use of marijuana.

Seeley took his appeal for the right to use medical marijuana all the way to the Washington State Supreme Court only to be defeated there by an unsympathetic 8:1 decision. He was a most moving “poster boy” advocate in the 1997 failed initiative campaign (I – 685) for allowing medicinal use of marijuana. He died at age 49 in January of 1998 as a result of an embolus relating to his cancer. Unfortunately he did not survive to witness the triumph of the successful medicinal marijuana initiative (I-692) in November of 1998 which allowed suffering patients in Washington State to use marijuana for symptomatic relief.

He was a tireless fighter against the lies that bolstered the government’s immoral prohibition of marijuana, and worked heroically for justice, and the right to be free of needless suffering. in his own words “to deny people who are dying any drug is so unjust that it defies description … it’s just criminal.” His work is memorialized in the Seeley Stage at the Seattle Hemp Fest


Author, cannabis expert witness, journalist, artist