In 2020 the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana laws is preparing to mark its 50th anniversary just as the U.S., is finally getting warmed up to welcoming weed. Truthfully, the world’s best known marijuana advocacy group got its kick-start at the end of 1970, not the beginning; but NORML plans to celebrate its milestone all year long. It may have taken a half-century to get here, but fifty years on, NORML has a lot to celebrate.
Today a whopping 67% of the American public support the legalization of marijuana. While cannabis is still federally outlawed, it is currently legalized for adults use in eleven states and medicalized in thirty-three more. The emerging legalized cannabis industry currently clocks in at almost $15 billion per year for THC products and that figure is expected to rise to $40 billion by 2024.
Although cannabis continues to be federally outlawed, the advent of federal law reform now seems inevitable, the question is no longer if but when and how?
All this was certainly not accomplished by one organization but by a million points of light; many of which lead back to a single bright North Star of dissent that has blazed – You bet! – across the American firmament for a half-century. NORML was not the first cannabis law reform org; it is simply the one which prevailed, and many of the most successful cannabis activists, advocacy journalists and even entrepreneurs made their bones working for NORML
NORML needs "to protect the interests of responsible adult consumers of cannabis."
So I asked my colleagues on the NORML board what the future might hold and I found unusual consensus among a usually irascible board. Long-time board secretary Dan Viets wants to “maintain the progress we have worked to achieve during the past 50 years and build on it.,” but he also acknowledged that NORML needs “to protect the interests of responsible adult consumers of cannabis.” And a more recent board arrival, Professor Beverly Moran of Vanderbilt Law School, echoed the secretary’s thoughts: “Protecting consumers,” she said without hesitation. “Making sure that the industry operates with equity, and protecting people in prohibition states.”
Big Corporate Cannabis is clearly on the hive mind. Vice-Chair Kyndra Miller admitted that when she talks to chapter leaders she re-enforces the founding mandate: “NORML started out as a consumer protection agency,” she explained, and NORML “is going to have to realign itself as a consumer protection agency and not a business protection agency”.
"We represent people, not corporations,"
Our most celebrated board member, travel writer and PBS host Rick Steves said he’s, “laser-focused on civil liberties.” He maintained that, “While it’s the American way to put an movement like this into the realm of business opportunities, NORML’s challenge will be to remain not a lobby organization for pot profiteers but a principled civil liberties organization.”
“We represent people, not corporations,” said two-time board chair Steve Dillon, and yet another former chair, Norm Kent, expanded on that thought: “We have to open our farms not to monopolies but to minorities and the masses who have been treated so unjustly for so long.”
But the O.G. old guard on the NORML Board (folks like myself, grey and green) know for sure that the future of our beloved org is in good hands. NORML’s greatest resource for tomorrow can be found among the young folk who now run the show. Emblematic of the new blood is Jarrett Moreno, 33, co-founder of the online media giant ATTN:
“The old challenge for NORML was getting people to realize that cannabis should be legalized,” Moreno offered. “Now, we move on to the more complicated job of speeding up the inevitable and navigating the complexities.” Similarly, NORML’s treasurer Evan Nison, 30, is the founder of Nisonco, the largest P.R. firm in the cannabis space. He said the goal is “to continue producing results for pro-consumer policy.”
And the executive director these days is Eric Altieri, 30, who took over as NORML’s youngest E.D. ever a few years back.
“With adult use markets springing up across the country, big monied interests have begun to bankroll lobbying firms to advocate full time on their behalf,” Altieri summarized. “NORML remains the only true advocate for the consumer’s interest.” He worries about “a growing industry lobby that is more focused on their bottom line than what is best for average Americans who consume cannabis,” and repeats NORML’s institutional “need to continue our fight for personal freedom and social justice.”
The final word, naturally, goes to the man who started it all;
“We were a consumer lobby all along in the sense that we were trying to keep consumers out of jail,” observed NORML’s legendary founder Keith Stroup. “Now we’re a true consumer lobby in that we’re trying to protect the health, welfare and safety of smokers.
With a wink to the future, Keith added, “We should always – and instinctively – keep the watchdog role.”
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