• by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel May 1, 2020
    NORML Founder Keith Stroup

    NORML Founder Keith Stroup

    On NORML’s 50th anniversary, NORML’s Founder Keith Stroup reflects back on a lifetime as America’s foremost marijuana smoker and legalization advocate. This is the first in a series of blogs on the history of NORML and the legalization movement.

    Starting NORML

    At the time I was preparing to graduate from Georgetown Law School in 1968, my major focus was finding a way to avoid being drafted and sent to fight in the Vietnam war. Back then, any male who turned 18 years old was subject to the draft unless he was a full time student, a fact that caused many in my generation to stay in school as long as possible. Many of us did not understand why we were fighting an unpopular war in southeast Asia, nor did we feel it was a noble undertaking that would justify the loss of so many young American lives. (More than 58,000 Americans died in that war.)

    But I was only 24 when I graduated law school and remained eligible for the draft until I turned 27, so I was desperate to find a way to avoid it. I had contacted some volunteer lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a fine organization that had stepped up to provide legal advice to the large numbers of young men who were actively seeking to stay out of Vietnam.

    One option they offered was to put me in touch with people who could help me relocate to Canada to avoid the draft. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young men who had fled to Canada by then, and a supportive community in Canada who could help these people get reestablished in their new country. The principal downside to this option was that there was no assurance the US government would ever permit these draft dodgers, as the government loved calling us, to come home. One might never again be permitted to enter the United States. This seemed too extreme for my tastes. There had to be a better option out there.

    And with the help of these NLG lawyers I found it. I applied for what was called a “critical skills deferment”. During the existence of the military draft, the government had always recognized that there are a few people whose jobs at home are so important to the war effort, or to keeping the country running smoothly so the war could be pursued, that they should not be drafted but instead should be permitted to continue their important civilian work.

    I had been offered a job on the legal staff of a newly created Congressional commission called the National Commission on Product Safety, an outgrowth of the trailblazing work of consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Importantly for my purpose was the opening paragraph of the legislation establishing the commission, declaring it was “important to the health, safety and welfare of the nation.” That language would prove useful in my application for a critical skills deferment. Just a few days before I was supposed to report for active military duty, my draft board granted me the deferment and I was allowed to work in downtown DC for the next two years, instead of going to Vietnam.

    The two years working at the commission were wonderful years. I was working as a lawyer at a prestigious Congressional commission on K Street in downtown Washington, DC instead of fighting in Vietnam. And I was learning the basic skills needed to be an effective consumer advocate from the master, Ralph Nader, whose skillful use of the media and his willingness, even eagerness, to take on major corporations, had turned him into a folk hero.

    It was the experience of working around Nader at the product safety commission that convinced me to consider using my legal training to work for the interests of American consumers. I had first started smoking marijuana when I was a first-year law student and by the time the commission came to an end, ending marijuana prohibition had become an important cause for me. I knew there was no justification for treating smokers as criminals and since I was then too old to be drafted, I decided to use my new freedom to found NORML as a consumer lobby to represent the interests of responsible marijuana smokers. I wanted to use the consumer advocate model Nader had used so successfully for product safety to challenge marijuana prohibition.

    And, as the saying goes, “the rest is history.” Fifty years and counting as we continue to fight for a world in which marijuana smokers are treated fairly in all aspects of their lives.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 24, 2020

    More than six in ten registered voters say that they intend to vote for a statewide ballot measure this November to legalize the adult-use cannabis market, according to polling data compiled by Monmouth University.

    Sixty-one percent of respondents said that they will vote for the measure, which amends the state Constitution to permit the possession, production, and retail sale of cannabis to those age 21 or older. Lawmakers in 2019 overwhelmingly voted to place the measure on the 2020 November ballot after similar legislation failed to gain majority support in the Senate.

    The proposed ballot question reads: “Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called ‘cannabis’? Only adults at least 21 years of age could use cannabis. The State commission created to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program would also oversee the new, personal use cannabis market. Cannabis products would be subject to the State sales tax. If authorized by the Legislature, a municipality may pass a local ordinance to charge a local tax on cannabis products.”

    New Jersey is one of a limited number of states that will have marijuana-related questions on the November ballot. If approved, New Jersey will join eleven other states and Washington, DC in legalizing the adult marijuana use. All but two states have done so via voter initiative.

    According to the poll, support for the ballot initiative was strongest among Democratic voters (74 percent) and Independents (64 percent). Only 40 percent of Republican voters said that they will back the initiative. Overall, 62 percent of respondents said that legalization will help the state’s economy, and 64 percent said that the personal possession of small quantities of marijuana should no longer be a crime.

  • by Jenn Michelle Pedini, NORML Development Director March 5, 2020

    2020 Virginia General AssemblyBroad changes to marijuana laws swept through the 2020 Virginia General Assembly. Today, the legislature approved SB2 and HB 972  to decriminalize marijuana possession. Those in possession of up to one ounce of cannabis for personal use will no longer be subject to criminal prosecution and will instead face a maximum $25 civil penalty. The bipartisan, bicameral effort led by Senator Adam Ebbin (D-30) and House Majority Leader Delegate Charniele Herring (D-46), also allows for the sealing of records for misdemeanor arrests, charges, convictions, and deferred dispositions for marijuana possession from employers and schools, and redefines extractions previously considered hashish as marijuana. The legislation now heads to Governor Ralph Northam’s desk for approval.

    “This long overdue victory comes after years of sustained effort by Virginia NORML and its members. A supermajority of Virginians have for many years opposed the continued criminalization of personal possession, and the legislature has finally taken action to turn public opinion into public policy,” said NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the executive director of the state affiliate, Virginia NORML.

    Commenting on the final passage, Senator Ebbin said, “this is a major step forward for criminal justice reform in Virginia. The prohibition on marijuana has clearly failed, and impacts nearly 30,000 Virginians per year. It’s well past time that we stop doing damage to people’s employment prospects, educational opportunities, and parental rights.”

    Delegate Herring said this “is an important step in mitigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system. While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased. This bill will not eliminate the racial disparities surrounding marijuana, but it will prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession while we move toward legalization in coming years with a framework that addresses both public safety and equity in an emerging market.”

    Governor Northam has spoken in favor of decriminalizing marijuana violations and expunging past convictions as has Attorney General Mark Herring. “Decriminalization is an important first step on Virginia’s path towards legal, regulated adult use, and one many thought was still years away, but we cannot stop now. We’ve shown that smart, progressive reform is possible and we must keep going,” General Herring told Virginia NORML.

    The legislature has approved multiple bills that call for the study of establishing a regulatory framework for adult-use. This effort is intended to result in legislation and a report in advance of the 2021 Virginia General Assembly.

    Earlier this week, the Virginia legislature also approved Senate Bill 1015 to legalize medical cannabis and Senate Bill 976 to expand and improve the state’s nascent medical program.

    “As legislators became more comfortable with medical cannabis products, they recognized that patients and legal guardians of children and incapacitated adults need the protections of lawful possession instead of the affirmative defense. That is what SB 1015 provides — a statutory protection against prosecution, not merely an affirmative defense,” remarked Senator Dave Marsden (D-37), longtime champion of medical cannabis patients in the Commonwealth.

    “As Virginia’s program finally begins to provide patients access to products in 2020, the explicit legal protections and additional dispensing facilities established by Senator Marsden’s bills are much needed improvements from which patients and caregivers will benefit greatly,” said Pedini.


    This post was updated to reflect the passage of SB2  

    A complete listing of marijuana-related legislation in the 2020 Virginia General Assembly is available here. For more information, contact Jenn Michelle Pedini, NORML Development Director & Virginia NORML Executive Director.

    Become a member Virginia NORML and join the fight to reform marijuana laws in the Commonwealth. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 6, 2020

    Senate-backed legislation to regulate retail sales of marijuana to adults continues to advance in Vermont.

    Members of the House Ways and Means Committee voted 7 to 3 this week in favor of the bill, S. 54. The proposal now awaits consideration from the House Appropriations Committee. If approved, it will go before the full House for a vote.

    Senate lawmakers have already approved a version of the bill by a veto-proof supermajority.

    As approved by House lawmakers, the measure would establish tax rates and other regulatory measures on the sale of commercially marketed cannabis products. In 2018, lawmakers approved legislation legalizing the personal possession and private cultivation of marijuana by those ages 21 and older. However, that law did not establish a structure for the retail production and sale of marijuana.

    To date, only one state — Illinois — has taken legislative action to authorize adult-use cannabis sales.

    It remains uncertain where Republican Gov. Phil Scott stands on the bill. In the past, he has expressed skepticism toward the notion of legalizing marijuana sales, but some insiders indicate that he has softened his stance in recent months.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director January 6, 2020

    marijuana plantA proposed measure legalizing and regulating the adult use and retail sale of marijuana in South Dakota has qualified for the 2020 ballot.

    The South Dakota Secretary of State’s Office acknowledged Monday that the proposed constitutional amendment will appear on the November ballot. The measure permits individuals 21 and older to possess and purchase up to an ounce of cannabis and creates a system to license and regulate retail marijuana businesses. Limited home cultivation is also permitted under the measure.

    The proposal is the second marijuana-specific initiative to be approved by the Secretary of State’s office. Last month, officials similarly certified Measure 26, which legalizes patients’ access to medical cannabis, for the November ballot.

    “South Dakota will become the first state in American history to vote on both medical marijuana and adult-use legalization initiatives on the same ballot,” Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told the website Marijuana Moment, which first broke the news. MPP and the New Approach PAC are actively backing both proposals. South Dakota is one of only three states that has not enacted any legislation providing some form of medical cannabis or CBD access.

    Eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana by adults. In December, New Jersey lawmakers also decided to place an adult-use legalization question on the November 2020 ballot.

    Additional information on the pending South Dakota initiatives is available from South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws.

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