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Founded nearly five decades ago by Keith Stroup, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is the nation’s largest, most influential marijuana non-profit lobby and advocacy group. In a 2013 interview with CannaMLS.com, Stroup talked about why the organization was founded.
"We started it as a consumer lobby,” says Stroup. “We wanted to represent the interests of responsible marijuana smokers."
How the public perceives use and abuse was one of the main key social issues that encouraged Stroup to take action. During the 1970's, alcohol enjoyed a clear distinction between sanctioned, responsible use and life-destroying abuse. By contrast, marijuana had no such distinction because any use was considered addictive abuse.
After graduating law school, Stroup worked with advocacy groups and met a young Ralph Nader. The relationship inspired Stroup to use his new law degree to adjust policy instead of representing individuals. Describing himself as, “young and naïve,” Stroup thought the process could be done in 10 years.
When NORML was founded back in 1970, they expected to have meaningful reform passed within a decade, yet it took over 43 years for meaningful reform to come about. One of the main reasons it has taken so long can be traced to deep racial tensions and partisan politics.
Since its inception, the War on Drugs has been an institutionalization of prejudicial ideologies. The Nixon administration targeted cannabis because it was tied to the "anti-war left and blacks." Later presidents like Reagan, Bush and Clinton all pushed harsher criminal legislation. Resulting legislation perpetuated and reinforced the racist policies set forth by Larry Anslinger and the Reefer Madness movement.
At the height of the drug war, millions of Americans lost property, liberty, and their lives. At the same time, NORML was lobbying for change, providing access to resources and helping organize people into a cohesive force. When Colorado decided to legalize all uses of cannabis, not just medical marijuana, it felt like vindication, and more states followed suit. Attorney General Eric Holder directed the Justice Department to deescalate prosecution and allowed states to set their own marijuana policies. Legalization in more states followed, and it seemed the War on Drugs was winding down.
"The two biggest challenges facing reform right now are time and the Trump Administration,” according to NORML political director Justin Strekal. “Time is an issue because of older legislators. They still cling onto the ‘Just Say No’ and ‘Reefer Madness’ era’s mentality.”
We have clearly won the confidence of the American public, with 60% supporting outright legalization, 73% opposing the federal intervention in states that have chosen to enact reform, and a whopping 94% supporting medical marijuana. Politicians must submit to the public will, especially at a point when advocates and groups are demanding reform. If they fail to placate their constituents, they will eventually lose power.
The Trump Administration and the lead marijuana policy henchmen bring a catastrophic death rattle reminiscent of prohibition. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his militant positions are clearly out of step with most American people. He is a staunch proponent of the long-discredited “gateway theory.” Sessions has called on federal officials to return to the “Just Say No” rhetoric of the 1980s. In fact, he was one of only 16 US Senators to receive a failing grade from NORML in the 2016 Congressional Report Card. He failed because of statements like these:
“We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it’s in fact a very real danger.”
“[Marijuana] cannot be played with, it is not funny, it’s not something to laugh about, and trying to send that message with clarity, that good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
There are several different levels of restriction or "schedules" of controlled substances in America, from schedule-three (least restrictive) to schedule-one (most restrictive). Marijuana is a schedule-one substance, which means it has a high risk of abuse. The restriction level also erroneously portrays it as having no medical value and is generally prohibited by federal decree.
Schedule-one substances are incredibly hard to research. Companies interested in developing medicine from cannabis have to go through an impossible process in order to get approval. This includes obtaining a license from the DEA and securing approval from the FDA. Applicants must then obtain any marijuana used from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Even if everything goes right, the NIDA can simply refuse to provide a study with the needed cannabis. NORML has worked since the beginning to change the scheduling of marijuana. Their efforts are aimed at allowing sane, rational adults to grow, study, and use marijuana.
Pressure is building on the Administration not to act on Sessions’ impulses. Numerous Governors and states Attorney Generals have called upon the Administration to ease its rhetoric. They’ve threatened legal action should the Department of Justice institute a crackdown.
There are many ways for you to get involved; the first step is to simply get informed. There are several organizations and news outlets including NORML that are broadcasting new science, data, and real-world effects of reform. Since information is power, you can have conversations with your neighbors and more importantly, your legislators and legislative staffers. The more precisely we citizens can describe their grievances to those in power, the more action can be taken.
NORML consists of over 150 chapters throughout the country. We encourage all readers to plug in with a local chapter or start their own: http://norml.org/chapters. Already this year, they’ve held 25 state lobby days and will announce details of future events. Readers can sign up for the federal lobby day planned for this September.
Additionally, NORML provides the Action Center. This service allows users to find current legislation in their state or at the federal level. It sends a message to your lawmakers in support of sane cannabis policies. Readers can take immediate action at: http://norml.org/act.
The more arrests, the more failures. When individuals are deprived of their basic rights and treated like second class citizens, it’s a failure of elected officials. The ongoing enforcement of cannabis prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties and engenders disrespect for the law.
Marijuana’s current classification impedes legitimate scientific research into the plant's medicinal properties. The negative consequences disproportionately impact minorities. NORML makes a difference every day; it's time for each and every one of us to join the fight and make our voices heard.