Cannabis groups come and go, but NORML, the granddaddy of cannabis organizations, has been around ever since 1970. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has never wavered from its goal of making weed legal in every state and at the federal level.
Keith Stroup, 76, who founded NORML 50 years ago, still gets pleasantly stoned and still advocates for the rights of marijuana users. I met him in San Francisco in the 1980s and have followed his career ever since.
Stroup tells me: “Right now, NORML is behind the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, a federal bill that would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which reefer maniac Nixon signed into law in 1970.” He adds, “We have big support from the recently founded Cannabis Caucus in Congress, though the MORE act won’t pass until we remove Trump from the White House.”
A self-defined “farm boy” from Illinois, Stroup was radicalized by the War in Vietnam and the threat of the draft. He became a public-interest lawyer after meeting Ralph Nader, the consummate consumer advocate.
Stroup remembers that the marijuana future looked bright when Jimmy Carter became president, in part because his sons smoked weed. He also remembers that there was a shift even before the Georgia peanut farmer moved into the White House. In 1973, Oregon decriminalized cannabis. Nebraska followed in 1978.
“Then along came Reagan and there was no progress until 1996, when California legalized medical marijuana,” Stroup says.
When I asked Stroup why the federal government still classifies cannabis as a “Schedule I” drug with no medical benefits, he tells me, “Once something gets into the federal bureaucracy it’s hard to get it out.”
Most Americans, he says, want full legalization of pot.
“The majority of U.S. citizens are anti-Prohibition,” he tells me. “They think that the anti-marijuana laws have created far more problems than marijuana itself, which is increasingly used for a variety of medical reasons.”
In many ways, the U.S. is still in the Dark Ages when it comes to weed. Whites and Blacks smoke it in equal proportions, but across the country, Blacks are arrested 3.6 times as often as whites for possession. In some Ohio and Pennsylvania counties, Blacks are 100 times more likely to be arrested than whites, according to an April 2020 study by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“It’s none of the government’s business who smokes weed,” Stroup tells me. “There’s nothing wrong with responsible marijuana use.”
Jonah Raskin is the author of “Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War.”