Lifelong cannabis warrior William Chengelis—better known as “Wayward Bill”—died in a Colorado hospital on August 7. He was 70 years young. As anybody who’s been part of the cannabis industry for a long time knows—Chengelis was considered a legend.
Chengelis served as former chairperson of the U.S. Marijuana Party, among many other roles in cannabis reform, and fellow advocates who worked with him expressed their grief.
“I am saddened to announce the death of Wayward Bill this afternoon,” Sheree Krider, organizer at U.S. Marijuana Party posted on Facebook. “Updates will be posted as arrangements are made. We have lost our longest lasting and best cannabis leader in our 20-year history. Please post condolences posts or pics as I plan to shut down the group for seven days in his honor. I will give notice of this ahead of time. God Bless.”
Chengelis personally helped legalize adult-use cannabis in Colorado in 2012. He also participated with the ACLU, the Democratic Party, S.A.F.E.R., Sensible Colorado, NORML and Coloradans 4 Cannabis Patient Rights.
His loss was felt around the country, as Chengelis was known abroad. Sharon Ravert, founder of Peachtree NORML, remembered the activist in great detail. “If you can legally smoke a joint where you live, you can thank Wayward Bill,” said Sharon Ravert, founder of Peachtree NORML. Chengelis “supported Peachtree NORML from its inception, and was a speaker at our very first Southern Cannabis Reform Conference in Atlanta. He was an OG with a purpose and he will be missed by many.”
Chengelis had been reportedly hospitalized for several weeks and was already receiving support from locals and people around the country on social media. Tributes continue to pour in on Facebook and Twitter where he was considered to be very active.
Chengelis has written for Rolling Stone and Unbroken Chain, serving as a writer and editor in many roles. He has also been an active blogger since 2005 with his personal blog, Deadheads United™.
The Life of Wayward Bill
Chengelis was born on February 21, 1951. He attended Youngstown State University in Ohio, shortly before becoming a full-time activist, joining the White Panther Party in Michigan in 1969, including the effort to free John Sinclair, his fellow White Panther who faced ten years for two joints. The White Panther involvement inspired John Lennon to write his song, “John Sinclair.”
He also joined the Yippie movement in New York. He was honorably discharged in 1974. After serving in the Army, Chengalis battled PTSD and bipolar disorder. He also was left with a crippled left hand, and he was considered disabled in the eyes of the law.
Chengalis referred to himself as a “Marijuana Mercenary” because he knew the unity behind the combined effort on the re-legalization, regulation, taxation of commercial hemp, as well as medical and adult-use marijuana.
According to his website, Chengelis lived on a “meager VA non-service connected disability pension.” He held a medical cannabis recommendation for severe pain in his left hand for many years. He knew first-hand the discrimination veterans face by both VA and HUD.
Chengelis’ official site provides this wonderful eulogy: “After all is done he intended to work on something simpler like world peace or maybe feeding the hungry. He regretted having only one life and so little time. He embraced all that is free.”
Benjamin M. Adams is Staff Writer at High Times, and has written for Vice, Forbes, HuffPost, The Advocate, Culture, and many other publications. He holds a Bachelor of Communication from Southern New Hampshire University.