• by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel June 5, 2020
    NORML Founder Keith Stroup

    NORML Founder Keith Stroup

    For NORML’s 50th anniversary, every Friday we will be posting a blog from NORML’s Founder Keith Stroup as he reflects back on a lifetime as America’s foremost marijuana smoker and legalization advocate. This is the sixth in a series of blogs on the history of NORML and the legalization movement.

    Attorney Gerry Goldstein and the Early Years: A Tour of the Texas Prisons, My Bust in Calgary, and “the Pierre Trudeau Defense”

    During the 1970s when I was first running NORML, in an effort to extend the impact NORML might have on public policy, I traveled from state to state, wherever and whenever someone was willing to form a new NORML state or local group. During these travels, I was frequently meeting other young lawyers (although we also had many non-lawyers representing NORML around the country), many of whom were also active in the anti-Vietnam War efforts, who shared the NORML position regarding marijuana policy. While  privately most of these volunteer supporters were also marijuana smokers, they had to be especially careful to conceal their use in order to avoid being targeted by local law enforcement who might find their pro-legalization advocacy threatening.

    In addition, during those years most state bar associations would investigate any allegations that a member of the bar was a marijuana smoker, and would frequently suspend any lawyer from the practice of law for several months or even longer for even a simple marijuana possession conviction. It was considered a moral offense that rendered the individual unqualified to practice law. It required a brave individual with a truly serious commitment to ending marijuana prohibition to assume the risks associated with speaking out as a NORML advocate during the 1970s.

    I was fortunate in that my bar license is with the District of Columbia, a progressive jurisdiction that long ago figured out they have more important responsibilities than to worry whether any of their lawyers are marijuana smokers. If one was convicted of a felony for selling marijuana, the DC bar would  get involved. But for my simple possession convictions, they have never even made an inquiry.

    NORML decided to begin to organize in Texas in the early years because that state seemed especially harsh in the manner in which they treated non-violent marijuana offenses. At the time, Texas sent more people to jail for longer periods of time for minor marijuana offenses than any other state in the nation. Our strategy during those years was to go to the heart of the monster and to focus as much public attention as possible on the victims of marijuana prohibition in an attempt to build public sympathy and to begin to overcome the negative stereotype most Americans then held of marijuana smokers.

    Gerry Goldstein

    Gerry Goldstein

    During our first year I became aware of this young San Antonio, TX criminal defense attorney by the name of Gerald H. Goldstein, who practiced in a firm with his father, and who was already doing some important ACLU work and representing anti-war activists in Texas. Gerry and I immediately became friends and he agreed to serve as the early State Coordinator for NORML in Texas, serving as our spokesperson with the media. And when we were approached by some members of the national media asking if we could arrange for them to interview some victims of marijuana prohibition, Gerry was able to arrange an opportunity for us to take the journalists, representing the Associated Press and The New York Times, inside the Texas prison system to meet privately with some hand-picked non-violent marijuana offenders who were currently serving decades-long prison terms.  George Beto, then the head of the Texas Department of Corrections, had become frustrated with the influx of young people, many of them students at the University of Texas at Austin, being regularly sent to prison for decades for minor marijuana charges and he thought shinning some light on what was occurring might force some changes in the sentencing practices applied to non-violent marijuana offenders.

    When Goldstein contacted Beto to indicate we had a couple of national journalists willing to come interview marijuana prisoners, the warden agreed to assemble a collection of a dozen or so non-violent marijuana offenders and to provide us the space to interview them within the prison. This was an extraordinary offer from the head of the Texas prison system and we knew it was a unique opportunity. In most states, the head of the prison system would likely not even bother returning our calls, and would certainly not help us identify the most attractive victims in the system or allow us to schedule an interview with the national media.

    When the date arrived, we found Mr. Beto had delivered on his offer. All of the prisoners were serving multi-year sentences (most multi-decade), and many had been arrested and convicted as young college students, often for selling an ounce or two of marijuana to their fellow college students, never fully understanding the serious risk of prison they were facing until it was too late. It was clear that none of these individuals presented a threat to the public, yet all were looking at a decade or longer in prison.

    That prison tour by journalists resulted in both a nationwide AP story that was very sympathetic to our position, and a subsequent New York Times Magazine cover story about NORML and our efforts to help the victims of marijuana prohibition. We were defining ourselves to the general public, and this national media attention helped introduce us as the good guys, working to save these non-violent marijuana offenders from the ravages of decades or longer in prison. And we were challenging the stereotype of marijuana smokers as bad people who needed to be jailed.

    As a result of this favorable media coverage, then Texas Governor Dolph Brisco, no friend of marijuana smokers, nonetheless felt the need to establish a commission to review the sentences of non-violent marijuana offenders. This resulted in the eventual early release of scores of non-violent offenders including most, if not all, of those we had interviewed in our prison visit.

    One of those young men who was released from prison was Frank Demolli, a former UT college student, who returned to complete his college degree and then became a tribal judge on a couple of Native American reservations in northern New Mexico. Frank, who subsequently became a NORML Lifetime Member, has stayed in touch over the years and recently sent me the following note on the occasion of our 50th anniversary.

    Keith, mucho congratulations on the 50th anniversary of your founding of NORML.

    In 1971, as Texas Department of Corrections Inmate #224552, and one of 800 Texas marijuana prisoners, we thought you were a god when you appeared on the cellblock with Playboy, ABC, NBC and the New York Times.   We couldn’t believe that a long-haired, plain talking, earnest, well-dressed, semi-sortta hippy could get away with changing the Texas marijuana laws which were two-to-life for even one seed.

    You did it.

    And our sentences were reduced and we can never thank NORML and you enough.  May all of you reap the benefits of your good deeds.  What has become more wondrous over the decades, is that your entire movement was peaceful.

    Love and Peace,
    Frank Demolli

    Busted in Calgary

    So it was only natural that I turned to my friend Gerry Goldstein for help when I was busted going into Canada to give a lecture in 1977.

    I did a lot of interstate travel during those years, and frequently I was traveling to a college to give a lecture, to raise funds for the organization and to expand our political network, always trying to leave behind a core group of activists willing to carry the fight forward in their area. And I would generally carry a joint in my coat pocket to share with the students when the lecture was over and the lights turned down for a showing of an edited version of Reefer Madness, which I regularly included as part of my presentation.

    But I had not at that time done any international travel and I thought flying to Calgary University in Alberta, Canada to deliver a lecture was the equivalent of going from one state to another; no special security required. As usual, I had a joint rolled in my pocket to share with the students after the lecture, and I was wearing a gold marijuana leaf lapel pin. It sounds terribly naïve now, but I was a true-believer and assumed the righteousness of our cause would somehow always protect us.

    And I almost made it through customs when the final officer saw my lapel pin and came back to search my sport coat more carefully, and found the joint. There were students from the university there to pick me up and take me to the lecture hall, and they had to use the lecture fee to bail me out so I could deliver the lecture later than evening. I was given a ticket by the customs officials and assigned a date to return to Calgary for the trial.

    I immediately called Gerry Goldstein to ask if he would represent me in Canada and he agreed. We both felt there was very little risk of my going to jail for such a small quantity, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity for a little street theater. We decided to use it as a show trial, at which we would raise the “Pierre Trudeau defense” to illustrate the need to end marijuana prohibition.

    Pierre Trudeau was the prime minister of Canada at the time. (His son, who was elected Prime Minister in 2015, enacted legislation legalizing the adult use of marijuana in 2018.) He had been quoted in the Washington Post as saying to young Americans who might want to come to Canada for a visit that they were welcome to bring along a couple of joints, and that they would not be hassled for personal use in Canada! Trudeau always seemed to enjoy contrasting his more progressive policies with the pro-war and anti-pot positions of the US government. He had also made it clear that draft-resisters were welcome to move to Canada

    I was never quite sure why Trudeau had made that statement. Perhaps he simply wanted to demonstrate he was not a hypocrite, since it had been widely reported that he and his wife had smoked weed with the Rolling Stones at some point. Regardless, it sure sounded like something that might be useful with my charges in Canada, and it would make good theater for the media.

    Gerry Goldstein & Keith Stroup

    Gerry Goldstein & Keith Stroup

    So, Gerry Goldstein and I returned to Canada for the trial and raised the Pierre Trudeau defense. I took the stand and acknowledged that I had entered the country with a marijuana joint in my coat pocket. We then introduced a copy of the Washington Post article including the Trudeau invitation into evidence, and I testified I had relied on that statement from the prime minister when I brought the joint into Canada.

    The judge clearly appreciated the creativity of our defense (and likely saw the humor in what we were doing), so he allowed us to put on our defense. Nonetheless, he ultimately convicted me (there was no jury), imposed a small fine, and sent me on my way home, none the worse for wear.

    It turned out we were searched again on the way out of the country, and the Canadian police this time found in a pocket in my shoulder bag (a bag with many little zippered pockets) an empty one-gram cocaine vial, with trace amounts on the sides of the container. Those were the years when cocaine use was relatively prevalent, at least among my circle of friends, but this was a screw-up, not something intentional. Goldstein had warned me to carefully search my bag before we entered Canada, but somehow I had overlooked this one pocket and I was arrested and thrown back in jail.

    Fortunately, I was able to stop Goldstein, who was walking a few feet ahead of me, from leaving customs, so he could work that evening to convince the prosecutor this was not intentional, the same one with whom we had just had such fun; and to accept a guilty plea the following morning before the same judge, permitting us to get the hell out of Canada! The judge was obviously angry to be dealing with another drug charge by the same foreign defendant for the second consecutive day, and he imposed another fine and ordered me to immediately leave the country (which, of course, I was only too happy to do). I was advised that I could never again enter the country of Canada, but in fact, after a few years I found those restrictions had been lifted and I have since been to Canada on several occasions without further trouble.

    I am well aware that because of my work with NORML and the network of talented criminal defense lawyers who have always worked closely with us, my experiences with the criminal justice system have not been typical. I have had the luxury of treating my two marijuana arrests (the second, at the Boston Freedom Rally in 2007, will be the topic for a subsequent blog) as an opportunity to publicize the unfairness of marijuana prohibition with little, if any, personal risk. The vast majority of individuals who are arrested on marijuana charges in this country (more than 650,000 just last year) still today pay a terrible price in terms of jail or prison time and life-long loss of employment and educational opportunities. For most who are arrested, it is an unfair burden they carry for life.

    Gerry Goldstein receives the NORML Michael J. Kennedy Award

    Gerry Goldstein receives the NORML Michael J. Kennedy Social Justice Award

    Goldstein and I have now spent nearly five decades as close friends and professional colleagues. He is a nationally known and highly respected civil rights and criminal defense attorney who has served as president of both the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (TCDLA). In addition to our work with NORML, we were law partners for a few years in the early 80s. He was an early recipient of the Al Horn Award (1999), given each year to an outstanding criminal defense lawyer in the NORML network; in 2016 he was the first recipient of the Michael J. Kennedy Social Justice Award; and he has been designated by the NORML Legal Committee (NLC) as the Co-Chair for Life (along with San Francisco lawyer Michael Stepanian) for his life-long commitment to ending marijuana prohibition. Those who have attended our annual NORML Aspen Legal Seminars are familiar with the benefit dinners we hold each year at the lovely home Gerry and his wife Christine Goldstein have in Aspen.

    Few people have had more impact shaping NORML policies and programs than Gerry Goldstein. He has been willing to speak truth to power his entire career, and he enjoys a little street theater.


  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director June 3, 2020

    If you haven’t read our statement on the murder of George Floyd and the intersections of marijuana criminalization and racial justice, please take a moment to do so here

    As first reported by Buzzfeed News, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is expanding its law enforcement powers so that it can better assist “to the maximum extent possible in the federal law enforcement response” to the wave of ongoing, nationwide protests that have followed the killing of George Floyd by a member of the Minneapolis police.

    According to a DEA memorandum, the agency requested to expand its policing powers beyond the enforcement of federal drug laws to include the enforcement of “any federal crime committed as a result of protests over the death of George Floyd.” Buzzfeed reports that the agency was granted permission to exert these new, expanded policing powers nationwide for a period of fourteen days.

    To be clear, the DEA is not asserting its existing authority to arrest those participating in peaceful protests who may be in violation of federal drug laws. Rather, it is exerting newly expanded police powers to take action against those for whom it perceives to have engaged in the violation of any federal law. Given the DEA’s long track record as an overzealous, ideologically driven agency, this rapid expansion of its policing authority should be discomforting to us all.

    The DEA has long misused its drug enforcement powers, and especially its powers to enforce federal marijuana prohibition, to target dissident groups and populations of color. For example, former Nixon adviser John Ehrlichman has acknowledged that the escalation of federal drug law enforcement against marijuana was due, in large part, to the administration’s desire to crack down on anti-war protesters. Ehrlichman explained: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

    Regardless of one’s personal sentiments regarding these protests, we can all agree that it makes no sense to elevate the power and authority of the DEA — even temporarily — during these uncertain times. 

    Further, NORML wishes to remind those of you who are engaging in these peaceful protests that despite changes in the legal status of cannabis in the majority of US jurisdictions, marijuana possession and use remains a violation of federal law. The DEA possesses the power to strictly enforce these violations of law. Because we know that the DEA is playing a more prominent role in surveilling these activities and taking law enforcement actions, NORML reminds anyone participating in these events to refrain from the possession or use of cannabis while doing so.

    Here at NORML, we will continue to demand an end to marijuana criminalization in the United States, and we will continue to be a critical voice against the DEA and other groups who misuse this prohibition as a pretext to clamp down on civil liberties, including the exercising of the First Amendment.

    In Solidarity,
    Justin Strekal

    NORML Political Director 

    P.S. If you have yet to contact your federal lawmakers in support of The MORE Act to end federal marijuana prohibition, now is the time to do so. For those who may not know, the MORE Act became the first bill to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act to ever pass the House Judiciary Committee last November and is currently awaiting additional committee action and a floor vote. Please make sure you tell your lawmakers to cosponsor the bill.

  • by NORML June 1, 2020

    House and Senate lawmakers have approved a series of bills to facilitate patients’ access to medical cannabis products.

    On Sunday, legislators finalized HB 819, which expands the discretion of physicians so that they can recommend cannabis therapy for “any condition” that he or she “considers debilitating to an individual patient and is qualified through his [or her] medical education and training to treat.” Under the current law, doctors may only recommend medical cannabis products to those patients with a limited number of select conditions, such as HIV and cancer.

    Commenting on the measure, NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “This is common sense legislation that provides physicians, not lawmakers, the ability and discretion to decide what treatment options are best for their patients. Just as doctors are entrusted to make decisions with regard to the supervised use of opioids and other medicines – many of which pose far greater risks to patients than cannabis – the law should provide doctors with similar flexibility when it comes to recommending cannabis therapy to a bona fide patient.”

    If signed into law, Louisiana will join a handful of other states — such as California, Maine, and Virginia –- that have enacted similar measures providing physicians with the ability to recommend medical cannabis preparations to any patient who they believe may benefit from them.

    House and Senate lawmakers also approved House Bill 418, which provides immunity from prosecution to “any facility that is licensed by the Louisiana Department of Health that has patients in its care using medical marijuana.” Legislators also approved HB 211, which seeks to encourage banks and other financial institutions to provide services to state-licensed medical cannabis businesses.

    All three measures now await action from Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

    State lawmakers enacted a limited medical cannabis access law in 2016. However, the program did not become operational until last year.

  • by NORML

    The total number of marijuana-related marijuana arrests declined more than eight percent from 2018 to 2019, according to annual data compiled by the Virginia State Police.

    State law enforcement officials recorded 26,470 arrests for marijuana violations in 2019, down from 28,866 in 2018. Marijuana-related arrests comprised 57 percent of all drug-related arrests recorded in 2019. Approximately half of those arrested for cannabis violations were age 24 or younger.

    Under state law first-time possession offenders face up to 30 days in jail and a criminal record. Subsequent offenses are punishable by up to one-year in prison. Those penalties change on July 1, 2020 when the state’s newly enacted marijuana decriminalization law takes effect. Under the new law, offenses involving personal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana are a civil violation – punishable by a maximum $25 fine, no arrest, and no criminal record.

    The year-over-year decline in marijuana arrests marks a reversal in policing trends. Between 2016 and 2018, marijuana-related arrests rose 25 percent in the state. Historically, African Americans have been arrested in Virginia for violating cannabis laws at more than three times the rates of Caucasians.

    NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the executive director of the state affiliate chapter, Virginia NORML, welcomed the change in enforcement priorities. “It is a positive sign that after years of heightened enforcement, we’re now seeing a downward trend in marijuana-related arrests in Virginia. Following the enactment of decriminalization on July 1, we expect to see an even more drastic reduction in these arrests — arrests that, historically, have disproportionately impacted the poor, the young, and people of color.”

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel May 29, 2020
    Keith Stroup

    NORML Founder Keith Stroup

    For NORML’s 50th anniversary, every Friday we will be posting a blog from NORML’s Founder Keith Stroup as he reflects back on a lifetime as America’s foremost marijuana smoker and legalization advocate. This is the fifth in a series of blogs on the history of NORML and the legalization movement.

    Tom Forcade, Michael J. Kennedy and High Times Magazine

    I first met Tom Forcade on the first day of the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami, Florida. At that time, I had no idea who he was, but I was about to find out.  He and his creation – High Times Magazine — would become incredibly important to NORML and to the movement to legalize marijuana.

    Tom Forcade (left) refuses to shake hands with Yippie activist Abbie Hoffman (right). Yippie Meyer Vishnu (center) tries to mediate an end to the Forcade-Meyer feud.

    Tom Forcade (left) refuses to shake hands with Yippie activist Abbie Hoffman (right). Yippie Meyer Vishnu (center) tries to mediate an end to the Forcade-Meyer feud. 1971

    The majority of dissident groups and anti-government protestors in Miami for the 1972 Democratic convention were bivouacked in Flamingo Park. which was re-dubbed The People’s Park by its many new residents. Forcade was there representing the Zippies (The Zeitgeist International Party), a splinter group he had recently organized as part of an internecine war going on between him and Abbie Hoffman’s Yippies (the Youth International Party). Tom and his fellow Zippies were selling ounces of marijuana out of a tree in People’s Park. I had no way of knowing at the time, but Tom and Abbie were in the midst of a bitter feud that began with a dispute over the publication rights to Hoffman’s Steal This Book. Their feud would ultimately end with Tom walking away from the spotlight of radical politics in favor of more discreet forms of social engineering.

    Rev. Tom Forcade

    Rev. Tom Forcade

    Forcade’s style of politics during his early political work was confrontational “street theater” and “in your face” tactics, literally. For example, appearing before the Senate Commission on Obscenity in 1970, the “Rev. Tom Forcade,” replete in black hat and a frock coat, denounced the “ancient myths of sterile blue laws” for several minutes in a stream-of-consciousness diatribe, finally concluding “So fuck off, and fuck censorship!”  He punctuated his penultimate point by throwing a cream pie in the commissioner’s face while shouting his coda, “The only obscenity is censorship!” That was certainly not the only example of Tom showing his dislike or disapproval by “pieing” government officials; it was a favorite tactic, guaranteed to assure media coverage.

    His real name was Gary Goodson, but back when he was a teenager in Arizona everyone called him Junior. Junior Goodson was a hotrod hell raiser who would regularly outrace the Utah State Highway Patrol just for fun in hundred-mile car chases on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Junior eventually turned his adolescent preoccupation with fast cars and adrenalin-fueled adventure into a successful career as a first-class marijuana smuggler. He changed his name to save his family embarrassment and quickly moved onto boats and planes as his mode of illicit expression.

    Tom Forcade completes his testimony before the Commission on Obscenity by throwing a cream pie in the face of one of the commissioners

    Tom Forcade completes his testimony before the Commission on Obscenity by throwing a cream pie in the face of one of the commissioners

    “There are only two kinds of pot dealers,” Tom Forcade used to say, “those that need fork lifts and those who don’t. I’m the kind who needs a fork lift.”

    Tom was much more than an uncommon drug smuggler, however. He was a writer, an editor, a publisher, and a movie producer. He founded the Underground Press Syndicate which served as sort of the Associated Press for the media underground. It linked, in style and content, many of the geographically disparate counterculture magazines and newspapers that were popping up around the country. As always, Forcade was focused on ways to bolster the counter culture and to advance the progressive, anti-government agenda. Most important to Tom was the issue of legalizing marijuana.

    Little did I know that he would in a few years become a regular funder, sometimes personally and sometimes via his magazine. And, of course, High Times, the pro-pot magazine he founded in 1974, consistently covered NORML’s work and celebrated our accomplishments both editorially and in their news coverage for many decades. It is fair to say that during the 1970s, most Americans who knew about NORML had read about our work in either Playboy or High Times magazine.

    The truth is that Tom Forcade, for whom the word visionary seemed tailor-made, accurately saw the potential of the legalization movement in Miami in 1972.

    1972 People's Pot Party

    The People’s Pot Party brought cannabis politics to Flamingo Park during the 1972 GOP convention. Photo via State Archives of Florida

    With so many protestors in Miami and so many progressive organizations trying to get their messages out, it was impossible for NORML or for any other social reform group to generate much media attention. The one exception, however, was the People’s Pot Party, another branding initiative by Tom, which was headquartered up off the ground inside an ancient eucalyptus tree near an entrance to Flamingo Park. If you wanted to score pot at the Miami Convention, you went to the eucalyptus tree in People’s Park, reached up with money in hand, and waited for a bag to float down from the leaves. It was the earliest version of a marijuana dispensary, and there was no age requirement or medical authorization required; just the courage to buy marijuana openly in front of hundreds of other protesters in the park. The People’s Pot Tree was audacious, illicit and, yeah, more than a little illegal. And the media ate it up. A picture of the eucalyptus tree even appeared in Newsweek.

    “When I saw that huge crowd under the eucalyptus tree,” Tom later recalled, “I saw the politics of the 70s.”

    Starting High Times Magazine

    Following the 1972 Convention, Tom largely withdrew from the guerilla theater and media manipulation that characterized his earliest efforts and returned to marijuana smuggling with a fresh resolve. Forcade never retreated entirely from dissent, he simply shifted the direction of his protest. NORML became the primary focus of his financial contributions, and he let us take the front lines of the legalization movement while he increasingly withdrew to the shadows.

    1975 NORML High Times ad

    1975 NORML ad in High Times

    Two years after our first meeting in Miami, Forcade put out the first issue of a national glossy magazine dedicated “to getting high… really high”. It was an instant success and doubled its circulation with each new issue until it sold almost a million copies a month. Tom Forcade did for marijuana what Hugh Hefner did for sex. He flouted his love of marijuana and getting high. High Times turned out to be his most enduring achievement and the publication of its first issue marked the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship with NORML that lasted for decades.

    In one of my favorite memories of Tom, I traveled to see him in New York City once when I really needed some cash to meet payroll or otherwise keep our heads above water at NORML. When I called him, Tom said, sure, he would help, but I would need to come to his place in the city. When I arrived, I was somewhat surprised to see the entire apartment filled from floor to ceiling with bales of marijuana. Tom and I did our business in the few feet available at the front of the apartment. He handed me a package with $10,000 in cash neatly wrapped, and I thanked him and left, just happy that no one had apparently noticed my brief visit, and we had not been busted. Tom clearly enjoyed pushing the limits, and watching his friends squirm.

    Another time, in 1976, I called Tom to ask for a contribution and he said he would leave me a gift, but he wanted me to tell the press about the contribution, but claim it was from The Confederation, an alliance of marijuana growers and distributors. He hoped that by his example, other smugglers would step forward and help fund NORML. One Sunday morning he (or more likely one of his friends) left the cash in a black bag in front of the NORML office on M Street with a typed note indicating The Confederation was making the gift, rang the doorbell (where I lived above the office), and fled.

    When I arrived, I brought the bag inside the office where I read the note and laughed out loud, since I knew it was from Forcade. Then, as promised, I called the Associate Press and the Washington Post and told them about this wonderful gift that had somehow mysteriously shown up at my door. And within hours an AP photo of the bag and the money, and a story about the gift appeared in newspapers all across America.

    That was clearly a more innocent time, and Tom and I enjoyed pulling their chain a bit. Today one would likely be indicted under some fraud or money laundering statute, and the money would be forfeited to the government as the profits from a criminal enterprise. But the 70s were a more innocent time.

    But over time Forcade began showing signs that his lifestyle and lack of discipline were starting to take their toll. He would frequently call the High Times office at all hours, stoned out of his mind on one drug or another, threatening to fire everyone; or on other occasions, promising bonuses to people whose work he thought was exceptional. The truth was that High Times had learned to get by with or without Forcade, as he would sometimes go on the road with one of the bands he liked for days on end, or disappear on another smuggling trip when he was similarly out of touch. He ran the magazine when he chose to, but he had put in place a team that published the magazine each month even when he was not in touch.

    Forcade was a mercurial individual, a classic manic depressive, whose incredible flashes of brilliance were countered by severe bouts of gloom. He was also someone who wanted to personally experience all illicit drugs, including heroin, which he sometimes did when he went on the road with the Sex Pistols, a favorite band of his.  And shortly before his death, Tom was also taking lots of Quaaludes, which can certainly cause depression. On November 16, 1978, on a complicated whim that resists dissection, Junior Goodson, a.k.a. Tom Forcade, in his New York apartment, put a pearl-handled .22 to his head and pulled the trigger. He was only 33 years old.

    At a private memorial service held at the top of the World Trade Center, a few of Forcade’s friends, including the core staff at High Times and myself, celebrated his life by telling our favorite Tom Forcade stories and sharing a few joints, each of which contained a small amount of Tom’s ashes, and laughing and crying. Somehow smoking his ashes in a joint on the top floor of the highest building in New York seemed like an appropriate manner to honor Forcade’s extraordinary life. I am certain he would have approved.

    High Times Following Forcade’s Death

    Bill Rittenberg, Gerry Goldstein, Michael Stepanian, Michael J. Kennedy, and Keith Stroup at a Cannabis Cup event in Denver, CO

    Bill Rittenberg, Gerry Goldstein, Michael Stepanian, Michael J. Kennedy, and Keith Stroup at a Cannabis Cup event in Denver, CO

    Forcade’s death had been a blow to all of us, if not a total surprise, and no one was certain initially if the magazine would even survive. But Forcade had assembled a good crew that kept the magazine coming out, including most importantly his long-time personal criminal attorney and High Times Legal Counsel (and chair of the High Times board of directors) Michael J. Kennedy. A nationally renowned, highly respected criminal defense and civil rights attorney, Kennedy was famous for representing some of the most radical anti-war activists and high-profile criminal and civil-rights cases in the second half of the 20th century. Kennedy’s clients over time included Chicago Eight co-defendant Rennie Davis, LSD guru Timothy Leary, Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton, Native American protesters at Wounded Knee, and anti-war activist  Weathermen Bernardine Dohrn. He also represented other prominent Americans including Jean Harris, the private girl school headmistress charged with killing her lover, Scarsdale Diet doctor Herman Tarnower and in his only divorce case, he represented Ivana Trump in her divorce and property settlement with Donald Trump.

    Hempilation I: Freedom is NORML

    Hempilation I: Freedom is NORML

    Kennedy remained in charge of the magazine until his death in January of 2016. During those years High Times always designated one of their senior editors as the “NORML person,” responsible for maintaining a cooperative and mutually beneficial  relationship with NORML. During the early years when Forcade was still alive,  that was A. Craig Copetas, a journalist who eventually left to become a writer based in Paris for such publications as Rolling Stone, the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News. Next, editor Steve Bloom became the “NORML guy” at the magazine, during which time he coordinated the production of two NORML benefit albums with Capricorn Records comprised of marijuana-related music, Hempilation I: Freedom is NORML, in 1995 and Hempilation 2: Free the Weed in 1997, raising more than $100,000 for the organization. Bloom eventually left to establish the marijuana news website CelebStoner, which he continues to run today. And more recently, associate publisher Rick Cusick was the designated NORML point person on the High Times staff until the magazine was sold and he and other staff were let go.  Because of his close involvement with NORML over a number of years, Cusick was elected a member of the NORML board of directors in 2013, where he continues to serve today.

    And during those decades following Forcade’s death, largely because of the support of Michael Kennedy, High Times became our largest source of funding, providing a free NORML ad in each issue, providing space each month for NORML to feature a leading grassroots activist from our NORML network around the country, and sending us a monthly check initially for $3,000 each month. These donations eventually increased to $5,000 each month and continued right up to the time the magazine was sold to a group of outside investors in 2017, when all funding to NORML stopped. These new investors were interested in monetizing the High Times brand and had no apparent interest in NORML or the marijuana legalization movement. For them, it was just another investment opportunity.

    Eleanora Kennedy, widow of Michael Kennedy, speaks at the 2019 NORML Conference

    Eleanora Kennedy, widow of Michael Kennedy, speaks at the 2019 NORML Conference

    Following Michael Kennedy’s death in 2016, NORML established an annual Michael J. Kennedy Social Justice Award to recognize those progressive individuals who are working to advance the cause of social justice in America.

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