A Three-Minute History of NORML

This is a short video I made for NORML‘s 2020 online national convention. (transcribed below)

When Keith Stroup founded the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in 1970 only 12% of Americans favored the legalization of marijuana. By the time Keith left NORML in 1979 that percentage had more than doubled and eleven states had decriminalized the possession of small amounts of cannabis.

Keith Stroup, Founder of NORML

When Reagan’s War on Drugs ramped up in the 1980s cannabis was in the crosshairs, and NORMLs mandate changed from reforming marijuana laws to hanging on for dear life. NORML directors like Larry Schott, Kevin Zeese, John Gettman and Don Fielder kept the NORML ball rolling against all odds while the rest of us were trying to stay out of jail.

Larry Schott
Kevin Zeese
Don Fielder

Still, the percentage of Americas who favored marijuana legalization – 25% – held firm during the 1980s and in 90s the pendulum swung back again with the advent of medical marijuana and Jack Herer’s hemp revolution. 

Marijuana regained its footing and NORMLs star rose once again. Lucky for NORML, the late Dr Lester Grinspoon took over as chairman of the board and asked Keith Stroup to come back into the fold.

Dr. Lester Grinspoon

So Keith was the executive director again in 1995 when the steady percentage of Americans who favored the legalization of marijuana began to climb approximately one point a year for the next 20 years. 

Allan St. Pierre

In 2012 Allan St. Pierre was the director when Gallup finally reported that 50% of Americans favored marijuana law reform. That gave everyone who was sitting on the fence a chance to jump over to our side. The last ten years have been very productive.

Our current director, Erik Altieri now presides over NORML at a time when 66% of the Americans support cannabis legalization and  a whopping 94% favor medical marijuana. Now, NORML did not do that alone. There were scores of organizations along the way  and a million points of light that made that happen, but NORML was one of the first and brightest stars in that firmament, and we’re here to celebrate a half-century of its intrepid advocacy.

Erik Altieri

When Keith started NORML fifty years ago he wanted to call it the National Organization for the REPEAL of marijuana laws but his friend and mentor, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clarke suggested that he change it from REPEAL to REFORM . He thought that would be more inviting… The National Organization for the REFORM of Marijuana Laws.  Now fifty years old.

Thanks to Keith Stroup. Thanks to Lester Grinspoon and thank you to all those directors who came before us who held the line or moved it forward. And good luck to Eric – you’re gonna need it – because, as you know, the job’s done yet. But it will be.  

I believe that you will be the director of NORML when the war against marijuana is a just distant memory and when the miraculous cannabis plant, finally comes into its own.  Thank You.

Oh… And don’t forget hemp. That’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room!

To support NORML and help end the continuing war on cannabis please click here.

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