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Legalization

  • 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.

  • by NORML May 28, 2020

    Adults who consume cannabis are no more likely to experience injuries at work than are those employees who abstain from the substance, according to the findings of a new literature review published in the journal Substance Use and Misuse.

    A team of researchers affiliated with the University of British Columbia conducted a systematic review of scientific papers assessing any potential links between cannabis use and occupational accidents.

    Investigators determined that most of the existing literature on the subject suffers from poor research designs. Specifically, few studies “employed research designs that ensured that cannabis use preceded the occupational injury outcome.” Others failed to adequately assess or control for confounding variables, such as the concurrent use of alcohol or other psychoactive substances.

    Due to these limitations, authors concluded, “[T]he current body of evidence does not provide sufficient evidence to support the position that cannabis users are at increased risk of occupational injury.”

    Their finding is consistent with that of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine which conducted its own literature review in 2017 and concluded, “There is no or insufficient evidence to support … a statistical association between cannabis use and … occupational accidents or injuries.”

    The study’s publication comes at a time when many local and state officials are re-examining workplace marijuana testing policies. Commenting on this trend, NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “Suspicionless marijuana testing never has been an evidence-based policy. Rather, these discriminatory practices are a holdover from the zeitgeist of the 1980s ‘war on drugs.’ But times have changed; attitudes have changed, and in many places, the marijuana laws have changed. It is time for workplace policies to adapt to this new reality.”

    In recent weeks, local lawmakers in several municipalities –- including Rochester, New York and Richmond, Virginia -– have moved to eliminate marijuana screens for certain prospective employees. These moves follow the enactment of similar policy changes in larger cities, such as New York City and Washington, DC.

    Lawmakers in Maine and Nevada have enacted similar, statewide legislation barring certain employers from refusing to hire a worker because he or she tested positive for cannabis on a pre-employment drug screen.

    The abstract of the study, “Systemic review of cannabis use and risk of occupational injury,” appears online here. Additional information is available from the NORML fact-sheet, “Marijuana Legalization and Impact on the Workplace.”

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 20, 2020

    The enactment of adult-use cannabis legalization laws is not associated with an increase in marijuana-related youth drug treatment admissions, according to data published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

    A pair of researchers from Temple University assessed annual drug treatments admissions among youth for the years 2008 to 2017.

    Investigators reported: “Over all states in the analysis, the rate of adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana use declined significantly over the study period, with the mean rate falling nearly in half. The decline in admissions rate was greater in Colorado and Washington compared to non-RML (recreational marijuana law) states” following the enactment of adult-use legalization policies.

    Authors speculated that a variety of factors could have influenced the decrease in admissions, including potential changes in youth use patterns and/or shifts in cultural attitudes toward marijuana consumption in general.

    They concluded: “To our knowledge, this is the first study examining the effect of recreational legalization of marijuana in the US on adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana use. Our results indicate that RML in Colorado and Washington was not associated with an increase in treatment admissions. Rather, we observe a substantial decline in admissions rates across US states, with evidence suggesting a greater decline in Colorado/Washington following RML as compared to non-RML states. … While we are encouraged that rates of new treatment admissions for marijuana use among adolescents exhibited a general decline in the states we examined, it is unclear whether this finding reflects trends in the prevalence of CUD (cannabis use disorder) or, rather, changes in treatment seeking behaviors due to changing perceptions of risk and public attitudes towards marijuana use.”

    Separate studies have reported a dramatic and consistent decline in the prevalence of so-called cannabis use disorder over the better part of the past two decades. Self-reported use of marijuana by young people has also been in decline both nationally and in legal marijuana states.

    Historically, nearly half of all young people admitted to drug treatment for marijuana were referred there by the criminal justice system.

    The abstract of the study, “Adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana following recreational legalization in Colorado and Washington,” is online here. Additional information is available from the NORML fact-sheet, ‘Marijuana Regulation and Teen Use Rates.”

  • by NORML May 13, 2020

    Most adults living in states where marijuana use is legal view the policy change as successful, according to state-specific polling data compiled by YouGov.com.

    Respondents in California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, and Washington were asked their opinion regarding whether their state’s adult-use legalization policy “has been a success or a failure.”

    A majority of those surveyed in every state but Maine viewed their policies as successful. In five states – Colorado, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington – at least two-thirds of respondents said that marijuana legalization had been a success.

    “This polling data reaffirms that most voters do not experience ‘buyer’s remorse’ following marijuana legalization,” NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said. “In the minds of most Americans, adult-use marijuana regulations are operating as voters intended and in a manner that is consistent with their expectations.”

    Although Maine voters approved adult-use in 2016, lawmakers and regulators have yet to fully implement the state’s law.

    The findings are consistent with those of prior state-specific surveys, such as those in California and Washington, similarly finding that majorities of voters remain positive about their state’s reforms following legalization.

    Nationally, 55 percent of US adults say the marijuana legalization has been either fully or mostly successful in those jurisdictions that have implemented it.

    Additional polling data is available from NORML here.

  • by NORML May 7, 2020

    Police are less likely to conduct searches for illicit contraband during a traffic stop following the enactment of adult-use marijuana legalization, according to data published in the journal Nature: Human Behavior.

    A team of researchers affiliated with Stanford University and New York University assessed the effects of statewide legalization laws in Colorado and Washington on traffic stop outcomes.

    Investigators reported, “After the legalization of marijuana, the number of searches fell substantially” in both states as compared to rates in 12 control states (jurisdictions that did not amend their marijuana laws). In addition, “the proportion of stops that resulted in either a drug-related infraction or misdemeanor fell substantially in both states after marijuana was legalized.”

    However, despite the overall decline in traffic stop-related searchers, authors reported that African Americans and Hispanics continued to be subject to vehicle searches at disproportionate rates. “We found that white drivers faced consistently higher search thresholds than minority drivers, both before and after marijuana legalization,” they wrote. “The data thus suggest that, although overall search rates dropped in Washington and Colorado, black and Hispanic drivers still faced discrimination in search decisions.”

    Nationwide, African Americans’ and Hispanics’ vehicles are searched about twice as often as are those of white motorists.

    Authors concluded, “We find that legalization reduced both search rates and misdemeanor rates for drug offenses for white, black, and Hispanic drivers – though a gap in search thresholds persists.”

    Their findings are similar to those reported in 2017 by The Marshall Project and the Center for Investigative Reporting. In that study, researchers similarly reported that traffic stop-related searches fell among both whites and African Americans post-legalization, but that blacks still remained two-to-three times more likely to have their vehicles searched.

    Commenting on the new study, NORML’s Political Director Justin Strekal said, “While we are pleased to see the total number of traffic stop-related searches decline in legal cannabis states, we must not overlook the reality that people of color continue to be policed in a racially disparate manner. While legalization is one tool that appears to lessen some of these disparities, it is not a panacea to solve the structural problems of systemic racism that persist in America.”

    The full text of the study, “A large-scale analysis of racial disparities in police stops across the United States,” appears in Nature: Human Behavior.

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