Half A Century Setting The NORML

50 years later, NORML is still fighting for legalization. Let's take a look at how they became America's most prominent cannabis advocacy group.

Keith Stroup, founder of NORML, at a press conference at the Sheraton Manhattan Hotel, April 9, 2002. Photo courtesy of NORML

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Since 1970, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has led the way in advocating for cannabis legalization and decriminalization.

Whether it’s providing legal support for those fighting against harsh laws, sticking up for an Olympian who just wants to take a rip now and then, or attempting to work with members of Congress to create some real change, the folks at NORML have pioneered the cannabis reform movement in America. 

NORML has been in the news recently, urging President Biden to join in support of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which would make cannabis legal at the federal level, expunge criminal records for nonviolent offenders of federal cannabis laws, and set aside money for restorative justice programs. 

A young Keith Stroup in the NORML office. Photo courtesy of NORML

In honor of NORML’s 50th anniversary, founder Keith Stroup has penned weekly blog posts on the company’s website recalling the early years of the company, introducing popular figures in the cannabis industry, and giving updates about the fight for reform.  

Stroup describes the early days of the company when a group of volunteers, all employed elsewhere,  came together in their free time with the common goal of cannabis reform. 

Like any new company, the primary focus went towards acquiring funding. Striking out with many progressive, anti-war organizations at the time, Stroup and the gang needed a stroke of magic to keep their dreams alive. 

Pulling A Bunny Out Of A Hat

The initial funding for the company came from an unlikely source: Hugh Hefner and the Playboy Foundation.  It may not be a surprise to many that cannabis and the Playboy Mansion go hand in hand, but the folks at NORML were still shocked about the interest from Hefner. 

Initially offering a $5,000 grant in 1970, Hefner began the partnership between Playboy and NORML, which helped the company turn into one of the top cannabis advocacy groups in the world. 

Hefner, who would continue to donate $100,000 annually throughout the 1970s, also gave NORML space in Playboy Magazine to advertise their services and information to the public.

Broadcast journalist Nick Clooney, Keith Stroup and Hugh Hefner during a NORML fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion in LA on November 16, 1978. Photo courtesy of NORML

One full-page ad from 1977 featured a picture of a cannabis plant hanging upside down, with text that read ‘Getting caught with this plant can turn your life upside down.’ The ad offered membership that for $15 a month would send a leaflet loaded with information about cannabis law and reform, special reports and updates, and unique product offerings. 

Also, NORML included a plea for citizens to urge their local state and federal representatives to support cannabis decriminalization for personal use and cultivation.   

NORML ad in Playboy, 1977. Photo courtesy of NORML

Playboy provided two full-page ads per year, which helped bring in thousands of dollars and grow NORML’s membership numbers.  The public’s exposure to the company didn’t end there. In the news section of Playboy, there were frequent stories about NORML, even a profile and interview about Stroup himself. 

His interview title read ‘A candid conversation about pot smoking, drugs, and legal hassles with the young director of NORML, who is spearheading the reform of marijuana laws.’

Stroup’s blog post mentions many stories about his time spent with the Playboy founder. From the amphetamine-ridden work sessions to Hefner’s stash of joints that he would keep in a container in his bedroom, the entry gives a glimpse into the life of one of America’s most notorious figures.  

Brushing Up On Cannabis Law

Photo courtesy of NORML

Despite the slow process, cannabis laws are being discussed and amended all over the world.  Keeping up to date on all of the breakthroughs and setbacks of the fight for legalization can be overwhelming.  

Providing a plethora of information on weed laws around the country, the NORML website features an interactive map of the United States, with information about the state’s individual cannabis laws available at the click of a mouse. 

A true Wiki-weedia if there ever was one, you can find information about a wide range of cannabis-related topics, including links to published studies and reviews on the positive effects of THC and CBD.  

A recent win in the fight for reform occurred in late June when three states eradicated criminal penalties for cannabis possession.

Stroup was able to see his home state of Virginia embrace legalization, along with Connecticut and New Mexico. NORML’s website also features pages on each state that is up for legalization, decriminalization, or expungement talks during 2021, along with a list of federal priorities for Congress, President Biden, and NORML itself. 

The Long Road To Legalization

Founder Keith Stroup & Hunter S. Thompson at an early NORML conference. Photo courtesy of NORML

NORML has been fighting for legalization since before it was such a hot topic issue. When they began their journey in 1970, a little over 10% of the public supported legalization. 

Now, with more people in support, the organization hasn’t let up on the gas when it comes to outreach, but have continued to fight for the complete abolishment of previous cannabis-related violations, as well as employment rights, fair treatment of parents under the law, and access to cultivation in the home.  

The organization came to the aid of Michael Phelps in 2009, when Kellog’s revoked their contract with the olympic swimmer after a photo of him hitting a bong surfaced on the internet. NORML urged the public to boycott Kellog´s products and send letters and emails to the company explaining why their decision was wrong. 

Keith Stroup and Willie Nelson on the Honeysuckle Rose. Photo courtesy of NORML

Over the years, NORML has garnered support from many celebrities, a number of which serve on the company’s  Advisory Board. Among the notable figures are Willie Nelson, Tommy Chong, Bill Maher, Ann Druyan (wife of the brilliant Carl Sagan), and Woody Harrelson.  

If you would like to support NORML or access the many outlets of their information, you can visit their website or follow them on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. 

August 05, 2021
Written by Ricky Alejandro
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August 05, 2021
Written by Ricky Alejandro

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