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.
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.
Federal lawmakers requested action this week on restoring medical marijuana access to veterans, while proponents in Arizona came one step closer to qualifying to the November ballot. Keep reading to get the latest news and to find out how you can #TakeAction.
A bipartisan group of 11 lawmakers wrote a letter this week to Congressional leadership urging them to reconsider the Veterans Equal Access Amendment. Majorities in both the US House and Senate voted in May to include the provision as part of the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. However, Republicans sitting on the House Appropriations Committee decided last week to remove the language from the bill during a concurrence vote. The latest version of the Appropriations bill now awaits action by the Senate.
A separate coalition of US Senators and representatives also drafted a letter this week to DEA officials calling on the agency to move swiftly to reclassify marijuana under federal law, and to allow private producers to cultivate cannabis for clinical research purposes. “We request that you take immediate action to remove ‘cannabis’ and ‘tetrahydrocannabinols’ from Schedule I. We also ask that you issue a public statement informing the research community that the DEA, in compliance with international obligations, will accept new applications to bulk manufacture cannabis for medical and scientific purposes, to be approved on merit-based criteria,” lawmakers requested. In April, DEA officials pledged to issue guidance on the scheduling of cannabis within the first half of this year, a promise they recent walked back.
Arizona: The campaign to legalize the adult use of marijuana in Arizona yesterday turned in more than 200,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office. The campaign needs at least 150,000 of those signatures to be certified in order to qualify for this November’s ballot. Under the proposed initiative, those age 21 and older are permitted to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their homes. The measure would also establish a licensing system for the commercial production and retail sale of cannabis.
Louisiana: Last week the city of New Orleans began implementing the new ordinance lowering the penalties associated with the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The ordinance was originally approved by City Council back in March in hopes of diverting police resources from minor crimes and keeping low-level offenders out of jail. The ordinance reclassifies minor marijuana possession offenses as non-criminal violations punishable by a fine-only: $40 for a first offense, $60 for a second, $80 for a third, and $100 for a fourth and beyond. Under state law, second and/or third convictions are punishable by between 6 months and 2 years in prison.
In statewide news, decision-makers at Louisiana State University and Southern University have agreed to apply for cultivation permits to supply medical cannabis. Under state law, qualified patients are permitted marijuana-infused products under a doctor’s recommendation. The state’s nascent medical cannabis program is anticipated to be up and running by 2018.
Pennsylvania: Members of the Harrisburg City Council are considering a measure to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana within the city limits. In recent days, members of the City Council amended the language to reduce the fines for possession, increase the fines for smoking marijuana in public and expand the effort to include possession of marijuana paraphernalia. The members are scheduled to vote on the measure on July 5th. If you live in Harrisburg you can find the contact information for City Council here.
Washington D.C.: The D.C. Health Department issued a report this week recommending the District legalize the retail sale of marijuana. Specifically, they recommend D.C. to “impose state taxes on production, distribution, and sales along with a licensed market participation, age restriction, and prohibitions on advertising and marketing to minors,” and ““use current regulatory models for tobacco and alcohol to base legislation to enact effective marijuana controls.”
Residents of Washington D.C. voted in 2014 to legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana. However Congressional leaders have prohibited the district from implementing a recreational market through annual budget riders. With this new report from the district’s health department and willingness from the Mayor and City Council to create a regulated market, it’s questionable how long Congress will continue to block the will of the people.
The NORML PAC is proud to announce its endorsement of Tim Canova, democratic primary challenger to US House member and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz for Florida’s 23rd congressional district race.
Mr. Canova, a law school professor and political activist, is the first Democratic challenger to Representative Wasserman-Schultz since she’s held the office and NORML is excited to support his Congressional campaign.
In Florida, I supported the 2014 medical marijuana referendum that garnered about 58 percent of the vote state-wide, falling just short of the required 60 percent mark. My opponent, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, is a drug warrior who opposed the medical marijuana referendum. Calling marijuana a “gateway” drug, she refuses to allow her constituents in South Florida, in consultation with their doctors, to decide for themselves whether to utilize this plant-based medicine to alleviate pain and other symptoms of various illnesses and the side effects of other medications.
Certain industries have a special interest in keeping marijuana illegal – for example, the alcohol and pharmaceutical industries, both of which view recreational and medicinal use of marijuana as a competitive threat; and the private prison industry, which profits from warehousing people in jails, including for marijuana possession. Not surprisingly, having taken in lots of campaign donations from the alcohol, pharmaceutical, and private prison industries and their political action committees (PACs), Debbie Wasserman Schultz opposes medical marijuana and supports privatized prisons and mass incarceration. Unlike my opponent, I do not take any contributions from these special interests, or from any corporate interests at all.
In addition to Florida’s medical marijuana referendum, I also support the recent reforms by Miami-Dade and Broward Counties to decriminalize marijuana for personal use, and I call on the federal government to “de-schedule” marijuana from the list of controlled and dangerous substances.
In many of the states that have moved in the direction of legalization and regulation of marijuana for personal use, entire new industries are flourishing, adding jobs and increasing tax revenues, and crime rates are falling. While I support state efforts to allow individuals to make their own decisions, I also recognize the need to provide young people — and people of all ages — with many more job and educational opportunities in a time of decriminalization and legalization.
Earlier this year NORML released our 2016 Congressional Scorecard, an all-encompassing database of information related to marijuana law reform that graded members of Congress on their willingness to reform our country’s archaic marijuana laws. Representative Wasserman-Schultz was one of 37 congressional members to receive an “F” grade, a grade reserved for members who have spoken out against and actively opposed marijuana reforms.
NORML would like to commend Mr. Canova for his commitment toward amending America’s antiquated and overly punitive marijuana policies.
Please consider donating to Mr. Canova’s campaign here. Additionally, you can also volunteer for his campaign from the comfort of your own home! All you need is a phone, computer, and internet connection. This call tool on his website allows anyone to call into his district to contact voters to urge their support for Mr. Canova.
As predicted, 2016 is turning out to a historic year for the marijuana legalization movement. With three statewide initiatives already cleared for the November ballot (Florida, Nevada, Maine) and several other initiative campaigns awaiting certification, there has never been a greater need for grassroots marijuana activism. From gathering signatures and making volunteer recruitment calls, to data entry and talking face to face with voters, there is still plenty of work to be done. To get involved today, simply follow the three easy steps below!
First, please consider becoming a member of our organization (NORML Membership). In addition to being a part of the nation’s longest serving marijuana law reform group and getting a great membership package, we have compiled an extensive collection of fact-based information that you can use to support your efforts as you engage lawmakers in your community. Regardless of the point you’re trying to make (recreational, medical, hemp, CBD, etc.) you’ll find recent studies, articles and other resources that will help reinforce your argument (NORML Library).
Second, if there isn’t already a NORML affiliate in your community (Chapter Locator), I encourage you to begin the process of forming your own chapter. For more than 40 years, NORML affiliates and chapters have been leading reform conversations on the local and state level, and they continue to be the driving force behind policy decisions regarding marijuana. If this is something that you’d like to be a part of, please take a few minutes to review NORML’s new Chapter Starter Packet. It will serve as your number one resource as you get started. If you need help finding others to join you, I’m happy to help connect you with people in your area.
Third, start contacting your local, state and federal representatives about pending marijuana-related legislation by using our online Action Alert Center. We’re constantly monitoring dozens of marijuana-related bills from around the country so we’re able to provide you with the most up-to-date legislative alerts and talking points. In addition to advocating for marijuana law reform using the legislative process, we also welcome the opportunity to work with your organization to draft a municipal ordinance, similar to the ones recently adopted by local governments in Ohio and Florida.
I look forward to working with you to establish a new community of marijuana activists in your state! For more information about forming a NORML chapter or getting involved with marijuana law reform efforts, please email KevinM@NORML.org or visit NORML.org.