Post heavy consideration and consultation with family and friends — and after a serious life changing event recently — I’ve decided to resign as NORML’s executive director after some 25 years with the organization.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s best selling 2008 book Outliers, he puts forward the premise that when humans focus intensely on a vocation or particular skill set, after approximately ten thousand hours of dedicated work and apprenticeship, most humans will come to ‘master’ whatever the given subject matter.
Having poured nearly seventy thousand hours working uber full time on cannabis law reform since early 1991, I’m seeking to apply this deep knowledge base and network of contacts in numerously different ways as America (and other countries too), finally, transitions from cannabis prohibition to cannabis commerce.
Coming To NORML
When I was a far younger person I wrestled with a fundamental question: ‘What to do post college‘? Did I want to work for a business? For government? In politics? Academia? Possibly for my family’s small businesses on Cape Cod, where I grew up?
After volunteering for NORML as little more than a concerned cannabis consumer who wanted prohibition to end post haste, I quickly learned that working at a non-profit advocacy group for the public interest focusing on cannabis law reform could be immensely rewarding regarding both the organization’s ability to provide aid and assistance to the victims of pot prohibition enforcement while at the same time effectively advocating at all levels of governments (and litigating in the nation’s courts) to end the long-failed prohibition on cannabis.
As NORML’s former executive director and board chair Richard Cowan once noted: “Working at NORML is both intellectual heaven and an emotional Hell.”
Truer words have never been spoken.
A Long-Failed Prohibition…
The depth and cost to my fellow citizens of the carnage wrought from what has been nearly an eighty year failed federal prohibition on cannabis has at times stretched my capacity as a human to relate to the financial costs, physical and emotional pain, suffering, separation, isolation and ostracization that the over 25 million cannabis law offenders have endured (arrests, incarcerations, civil forfeiture, child custody, drug testing, drug tax stamps, etc.).
On any given day after working at NORML any employee over it’s long history can be forgiven for feeling as though they’ve incurred a form of PTSD.
…Is Giving Way To Cannabis’ Legalization
However, because of immense devotion, sacrifice, energy and donated resources by like-minded citizens, literally a cast of thousands have worked cooperatively over decades to make incredible strides to, pun intended, normalize the responsible use of cannabis by adults, and advance voter initiatives and legislation that has brought us to this juncture in the nearly fifty year effort by citizen-activists to end cannabis prohibition.
- When NORML was found in 1970, national polling pegged public support for legal cannabis at twelve percent (when I arrived at NORML in 1991, a little more than twenty percent favored legalization). Today, according to Gallup, fifty-eight percent of the public support legalization. A 2014 Brookings Institute paper indicates that, like gay marriage in America, cannabis legalization is all but a political given.
- Today, the voters in four states have broken through the government’s Reefer Madness to create the ‘beginning of the end’ for national pot prohibition, with hundreds of millions in local and state taxes coming into government coffers assures that other states are going to soon follow. (Fifteen states have decriminalized possession for a small amount; by some people’s measure over three-fourths of states have medicalized access to cannabis products).
- Even at this early stage of cannabis commerce there are over four thousand tax-paying, licensed cannabis-related businesses, who, now joined with longstanding cannabis law reform organizations, will work vigorously to try to bring a fast conclusion to national cannabis prohibition.
The importance of the existence of non-profit groups like NORML, Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project to end cannabis prohibition in our lifetime can’t be overstated (or under appreciated by an emerging and nascent cannabis industry).
NORML Puts The ‘Grass’ In Grassroots
As unabashed and full throated supporters for cannabis law, NORML has built up a large social network online that reaches millions of concerned citizens weekly, making the days in NORML’s office pre-Internet in the early 1990s a very distant memory. We are blessed with consumer activists, coupled with a large (and politically active) network of state and local chapters, and, a NORML Legal Committee fueled by over six hundred lawyers — all of which helps to maintain NORML’s clear dominance in the United States organizing and informing millions weekly in the cannabis community.
Times are changing at NORML and in the broader marijuana law movement…where there are now equal calls and emails from aspiring ganjapreneurs than there are from victims of prohibition enforcement seeking help.
Fruits Of One’s Labor
Ever mindful that two generations of NORML’s supporters, board members and staff were not fortunate enough to witness the social changes they agitated for, or, don’t reside in a state where bona fide cannabis law reforms have occurred, I feel tremendous gratitude that I’ve lived long enough to see cannabis go from verboten to tax-n-regulated commerce.
As a resident of the District of Columbia I too now get to enjoy the fruits of reformers’ labor by growing my own ‘NORML director quality’ cannabis and readily sharing it with friends and family (at this year’s NORML Lobby Day Conference in May I gave away nearly half a pound of fine cannabis to the adult attendees who had to do little more than hold their hands out; a middle aged woman from Florida attending a cannabis-related conference for the first time, cried when I asked her to hold two hands out, and placed what used to be worth hundreds of dollars of ganja in her hands. She rightly declared that the amount of cannabis I conveyed upon her would surely get her busted back in Florida. I immediately agreed and welcomed her to a post prohibition world of our making. In effect, welcome to freedom).
While the financial compensation working full time at a non-profit organization can leave one wonting, the immensely awarding scope of the work and positive impacts on people’s individual lives and the advancing of societal-changing public reforms and public policies has, for me, always been the driving impetus to pour, literally, half my life into working for cannabis law reforms at NORML and NORML Foundation.
Life Changes: Blessings
In late March, after years of fits-n-starts, tribulations, rivers of tears and unspeakable amounts of money, my wife and I are finally blessed with the birth of a beautiful and healthy daughter.
As a new father-at-fifty the frenetic workload and travel schedule that I’ve maintained for so long at NORML/NORML Foundation — compounded by low pay and no genuine prospects to increase one’s compensation after twenty five years at the non-profit organization — to be the father that I’ve always aspired to become does not at all comport with continued full time employment at NORML/NORML Foundation.
However, I love NORML as much going out the door as much as I did walking in, so I intend to serve out the two remaining years of my board seat, working in concert for weeks with the Interim Director Randy Quast (Randy is among a handful of current NORML board members that I recruited in 2013; he has selflessly donated over half a million dollars in support of Minnesota, Portland and national NORML) and whomever the board chooses as my successor to continue NORML’s important and relevant public advocacy work on behalf of cannabis consumers.
As alluded to earlier, the country is in a transitional period between pot prohibition and a legal cannabis industry that will soon reach $20 billion in annual sales — NORML and it’s chapters, along with working hard to end cannabis prohibition in the remaining forty six states while concurrently helping the victims of prohibition enforcement — must also too pivot while working where mutually possible with the nascent cannabis industry, advancing consumer access to sensibly-regulated and taxed cannabis-related products.
Gratitude And Thanks
There are simply too many thousands of people that I’ve had the pleasure of working with and meeting over these twenty-five years at NORML to properly thank here, but I surely want to acknowledge Paul Armentano, Richard Cowan, Rick Cusick, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, Justin Hartfield, Eleanora (and her late husband Michael) Kennedy, Ethan Nadelmann, Rick Steves and Keith Stroup for abundantly providing me professional support and guidance for so many years.
Lastly, I would have likely been headhunted away from NORML over a dozen years ago if were not for the love and support of my wife Sara, who, always allowed me to continue public advocacy work in favor of cannabis law reforms despite it’s impact on our families’ lives.
Please continue to provide support and fidelity to Randy and NORML’s staff in this transition period, and, importantly going forward, for NORML’s incoming executive director, whomever the courageous individual chosen by NORML’s board of directors.
The enactment of statewide medicinal cannabis laws is associated with a quantifiable decline in the use of traditional prescription drugs, according to data published in the July edition of the scientific journal Health Affairs.
Investigators at the University of Georgia assessed the relationship between medical marijuana legalization laws and physicians’ prescribing patterns in 17 states over a three-year period (2010 to 2013). Specifically, researchers assessed patients’ consumption of and spending on prescription drugs approved under Medicare Part D in nine domains: anxiety, depression, glaucoma, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders, and spasticity.
Authors reported that prescription drug use fell significantly in seven of the nine domains assessed.
“Generally, we found that when a medical marijuana law went into effect, prescribing for FDA-approved prescription drugs under Medicare Part D fell substantially,” investigators reported. “Ultimately, we estimated that nationally the Medicare program and its enrollers spent around $165.2 million less in 2013 as a result of changed prescribing behaviors induced by … jurisdictions that had legalized medical marijuana.”
Investigators estimated that prescription drug savings would total more than $468 million annually were cannabis therapy to be accessible in all 50 states.
They concluded, “Our findings and existing clinical literature imply that patients respond to medical marijuana legislation as if there are clinical benefits to the drug, which adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that the Schedule I status of marijuana is outdated.”
An abstract of the study, “Medical marijuana laws reduce prescription medication use in Medicare Part D,” is available online here.
After 14 years serving as Deputy Director of NORML under three different Executive Directors, followed by 11 years as Executive Director, Allen F. St. Pierre has tendered his resignation to the NORML board of directors, effective July 15th. St. Pierre, a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, had come to Washington, DC a quarter of a century ago with the intent of going to law school, but he found a job with NORML and never left. We are all indebted to St. Pierre for his long and valuable service to the organization, helping lead the organization and the legalization movement through some difficult times to the glorious days of legalization we are currently experiencing.
NORML was founded in late 1970 to represent the interests of consumers, and today the NORML brand is clearly the best-known brand, along with High Times, in the legalization movement. And St. Pierre’s leadership has contributed greatly to that exceptional reputation. He is a tireless worker who has been the public face of NORML since 2005, having given thousands of media interviews, both large and small.
As Leafly deputy editor Bruce Barcott said of St. Pierre’s value to the legalization movement, “During his quarter-century at NORML, St. Pierre would gladly return anybody’s phone call, no matter if you were a rookie reporter, expert grower, angry NORML chapter head, or confused member of Congress. Despite the thrashing cannabis took on Capitol Hill, he always remained upbeat. His wry sense of humor and his ability to laugh at the absurdity of America’s cannabis laws and taboos weren’t just an unexpected balm; they were a model of sanity for advocates around the country.”
A Little NORML History
I first met St. Pierre in 1994, when the NORML board was going through a periodic crisis and Dr. Lester Grinspoon at Harvard, the board Chair, had been asked to establish a new board of directors, and Dr. Grinspoon invited me to rejoin the board. I had founded the organization in 1970 and headed the organization through the 1970s. I had managed first to befriend the administration of President Jimmy Carter, who favored decriminalizing minor marijuana offenses (the recommendation of the Marijuana Commission), and then to burn those bridges over the issue of the government’s spraying of paraquat (a deadly pesticide) on marijuana along the US/Mexican border, a practice we feared was poisoning unwitting marijuana smokers. In the end, I became embroiled in a scandal involving the president’s drug advisor, Dr. Peter Bourne, that cost Dr. Bourne his job, and I was forced to step aside from NORML.
I did other public-interest work for several years, including lobbying for family farmers on Capitol Hill and serving as Executive Director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDL). Those were all exciting challenges, but eventually, when that call came from Dr. Grinspoon inviting me back on the NORML board, I was delighted to return to my old organization. And shortly thereafter I was asked to once again serve as Executive Director of the organization for another decade.
During that decade, Allen St. Pierre, who had played a major role in keeping NORML alive as an organization during the difficult political phase when public support for legalization was sagging, served as my deputy and was an integral part of every major decision and project NORML undertook during those years.
St. Pierre Takes Over in 2005
When the time came for me to step aside (again) at the end of 2004, I had no doubt that St. Pierre was the individual best equipped to take over the reins of the organization, which he assumed on Jan. 1, 2005, a position he held for the last 11-plus years. And during that time he oversaw all sorts of conflicts over priorities and strategies for the legalization movement, including most importantly the inevitable tension between those who use marijuana as a medicine, and those of us who smoke recreationally. Like all other drug law reform organizations, NORML had some supporters who preferred we focus primarily on the medical side of the issue, as well as those of us who felt out goal should always remain the full legalization of marijuana for all adults, regardless of why one smokes.
When we win a medical use bill, we win only the right to smoke marijuana for specific ailments if a physician says we are sick. That is crucial for many seriously ill patients, but the vast majority of marijuana smokers are not sick. We smoke because we enjoy it. And medical use laws do nothing to protect recreational users from arrest and jail. When we win full legalization, we expand personal freedom — the right to smoke marijuana free from government interference, regardless of why we smoke.
The success we have had by fully legalizing marijuana in four states and the district of Columbia since 2012, and the likelihood that we will add four or five additional states to the list of fully legalized jurisdictions this November, confirms the feasibility of the strategy that St. Pierre and NORML have pursued all these years. We are gradually restoring a measure of personal freedom to millions of responsible marijuana smokers all across this land.
St. Pierre, who at 50 is a new father, now begins a new phase of his life, and we all wish him well and much success. He will remain on the NORML board of directors, continuing to share his insight and experience, and help keep the organization moving forward in an effective manner.
And for now, all of us at NORML, and those millions of smokers out there who look to NORML to lead the charge to legalization in their states, owe a debt of gratitude to Allen St. Pierre for his dedication and leadership for the last 25 years at NORML.
Thanks Allen for being a valued friend and colleague for all these years.
These past few days have truly been a sad time for most Americans, as we witnessed two more unjustified civilian killings by the police, raising obvious issues of racial bias; followed by the tragedy in Dallas in which five police officers were killed by a sniper, apparently in response to the aforementioned civilian killings.
A cycle of unjustified killings by police followed by unjustified killing of police. Regardless of your political persuasion, it is seriously disturbing that these incidents appear to be occurring more frequently, not less.
Anyone watching cable news could be excused for thinking the country is coming apart at the seams; 24-hour coverage of the carnage leaves the impression that none of us are safe, wherever we live or work. But we must not permit those who would resort to violence to define who we are.
Despite our problems, the reality is far less frightening. Yes, these latest incidents surely underscore the unresolved tensions between the police and many in the minority communities; and the unresolved racism that permeates much of society.
But in truth, most of us live good, productive and peaceful lives, largely free from violence; and we do our best to contribute to a society that treats all individuals, regardless of race, in a fair and equal manner. We still have a great distance to travel to achieve these lofty goals, but the great majority of Americans are committed to making that journey.
I acknowledge this column, unlike my usual columns, has little to do with legalizing marijuana. And that is purposeful.
Sometimes, when tragic events occur, we must set aside our personal crusades for a brief respite, while we join our fellow citizens in expressing our common grief and our common commitment to stop this madness. Our daily work routine, regardless of how important we may think it is, pales in comparison to these larger, overriding issues of peace and justice.
This is one of those times.
Yes, it is important that we end marijuana prohibition and stop the senseless arrest of marijuana smokers. And we will continue to move legalization forward.
But for today, let’s (symbolically) join hands with our fellow citizens in Dallas and Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights, MN, and all across this country, and acknowledge our role in the larger society, and our obligation to work for the just society we all want.
As Rodney King famously said, “Can’t we all just get along?”
Adult use legalization initiatives in Arizona, California and Massachusetts are moving forward and Illinois has expanded its medical marijuana program. Keep reading to get the latest news and to find out how you can #TakeAction.
On Wednesday, July 13th the US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism is holding a hearing titled, “Researching the Potential Medical Benefits and Risks of Marijuana.” The Congressional hearing follows the recent introduction of House Bill 5549 and Senate Bill 3077 – which would expedite the federal review process for clinical protocols involving cannabis. Contact your federal lawmakers today to encourage them to support this common sense legislation. #TakeAction
Arkansas: The Secretary of State’s office affirmed on Thursday that proponents, Arkansans for Compassionate Care, submitted sufficient signatures from registered voters to qualify the measure for the November ballot. The 2016 Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act establishes a statewide program for the licensed production, analytic testing, and distribution of medicinal cannabis. Under the program, patients diagnosed by a physician with one of over 50 qualifying conditions may obtain cannabis from one of up to 38 licensed non-profit care centers. Qualified patients who do not have a center operating in their vicinity will be permitted to obtain a ‘hardship certificate’ in order to cultivate their own medicine at home. A similar initiative narrowly failed in the state in 2012, garnering over 48 percent of the vote.
California: It was announced this week that the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) initiative will appear on the ballot as Proposition 64. This pending proposal, if approved by the voters, will permit adults to legally cultivate up to six marijuana plants and to possess up to an ounce of marijuana or eight grams of marijuana concentrates; and it will license the commercial cultivation and retail sales of marijuana products to adults. The measure prohibits localities from preventing responsible adults from possessing and cultivating cannabis for non-commercial purposes in the privacy of their own homes. The initiative language specifies that it is not intended to “repeal, affect, restrict, or preempt … laws pertaining to the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.” You can read more about the proposal here.
Georgia: Members of the Clarkston City Council voted this week in to approve an ordinance reducing the penalties for simple possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. The amendment makes simple possession a citable rather than an arrestable offense, punishable by a $75 fine. Mario Williams, Public Safety Committee chairman said, “It is a proven fact that arresting people … for simple possession of an ounce or less of marijuana has damaging effects long-term and short-term on their lives and that’s why we took a step forward and mitigated those effects today.”
Illinois: Governor Bruce Rauner signed legislation to expand and extend the state’s medical marijuana program to 2020. Legislation initiating the program was set to expire in 2018. Other changes to the program include adding post-traumatic stress and any terminal illness as qualifying medical conditions; extending the lifespan of state-issued registry cards from one year to three years in duration; and amending the requirement that physicians must explicitly recommend cannabis therapy. Instead, physicians will only be required to certify that there exists a bona fide doctor-patient relationship and that the patient possesses a qualifying, debilitating medical condition.
These new changes in law took effect upon the Governor’s signature.
Massachusetts: Proponents of a statewide marijuana legalization initiative effort moved one step closer this week to qualifying for the ballot in November. On Tuesday the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol turned in more than 25,000 additional signatures from registered voters to the Secretary of State’s office. The state required an additional 10,792 signatures. Proponents this week also gained a legal victory from the state’s Supreme Court, which rejected a challenge that sought to remove the language from the state’s ballot.
Pennsylvania: Members of the Harrisburg City Council this week voted unanimously in favor of a municipal ordinance to reduce penalties associated with the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The measure reclassifies cannabis possession as a summary offense punishable by a $5 fine. Pennsylvania’s capital city now joins Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in treating minor marijuana possession offenses similar to a traffic citation.