With discussions these days of “Pilgrims” and “Indians” inevitably leading to Columbus, genocide, dispossession and a whole bunch of other topics that do nothing positive to aid digestion, today we’re going to settle into the sweet zone and give true thanks to a group of people that all of us fans of Mary Jane can appreciate – the National Organization for the Repeal of Marijuana Laws, better known as NORML.
Based in Washington, D.C., and founded in 1970 by Keith Stroup, the nonprofit group of affiliated, international, national and state cannabis advocates is guided by their mission, “to move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and to serve as an advocate for consumers to assure they have access to high quality marijuana that is safe, convenient and affordable.”
With well over 150 chapters worldwide, NORML is in the vanguard of lobbying to change laws regarding cannabis across the United States and Europe, with expansion into Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Jamaica.
NORML has been in the fight for the long haul; the group’s inception in 1970 coincided with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act, the most virulent anti-cannabis legislative actions since the days of Henry Aslinger and Reefer Madness. The CSA established marijuana as a Schedule I chemical (defined by “a high potential for abuse; ... no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; ... [and a] lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision”) alongside cocaine and heroin. NORML’s first big movement was the dissemination of information concerning Title II, Part F of the Comprehensive Drug Prevention and Control Act, a commission headed by former Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Raymond P. Shafer, which concluded that, “(T)he criminal law is too harsh a tool to apply to personal possession even in the effort to discourage use. It implies an overwhelming indictment of the behavior which we believe is not appropriate. The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only with the greatest reluctance,” a de facto recommendation for decriminalization that was ignored by President Nixon at the national level. The work NORML undertook following the Shafer Commission led to cannabis decriminalization laws being passed in 11 states during the 1970s.
In 1972, NORML brought its first lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Agency with the goal of rescheduling cannabis for medical use, a legal action that was illegally mothballed by the government for more than a decade and a half; the eventual decision on the case, made in 1988 by the DEA’s own Chief Administrative Law Judge Francis Young, ruled that “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis, marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care,” a decision that set the stage for the incredible nationwide expansion of first, medical (starting with a San Francisco ordinance) and now, recreational cannabis legalization in the last 25 years.
NORML’s 46-year crusade saw its single biggest victory realized on Nov. 7 with the passage of recreational cannabis ballot initiatives in four states: California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada, and medical initiatives in an additional four states.
So, today, unless you live in the Deep South (excepting Florida, which passed a medical law during this election) your access to and, indeed, quality of cannabis can be traced very directly to the National Organization for the Repeal of Marijuana Laws; be sure to send blessings and thanks their way as you puff, puff and pass the turkey.
Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at [email protected]