It's NORML bashing season. From celebrities to activists, NORML can't catch a break. Plus, there's their rivalries with other drug-reform organizations such as the MPP and DPA. Is NORML being unfairly singled out for the failure to end marijuana prohibition?
Let me start off by saying I'm a big supporter of NORML. While I worked at High Times, I produced the Hempilation album series that benefitted NORML to the tune of $150,000. NORML reciprocated by giving me their Media & Culture Award in 2004. I have nothing but respect for current executive director Allen St. Pierre, founder and chief counsel Keith Stroup, and everyone else associated with this hard-working non-profit that has been trying to change the marijuana laws since 1970.
Recently, NORML has had to fend off a deluge of criticisms. Here are a few:
• Bill Maher (NORML Advisory Board): "I'm a little disillusioned with NORML. I’ve always said, one of the reasons there’s been so little progress on the marijuana front is that what the movement needs more than anything is some kick-ass, take-no-prisoners, Karl Rove-type lobbyist, you know? And that just never happens, because it’s all a bunch of stoners."
• Woody Harrelson (NORML Advisory Board): "I’ve been the poster boy for the marijuana legalization movement and it’s not fair to those people that actually do it. I’ve never been involved in that struggle."
• Bruce Cain, who publishes New Age Citizen and now promotes MERP, his self-cultivation legalization model, has relentlessly attacked NORML for not supporting the proposal. He has stated that both St. Pierre and Stroup believe marijuana is harmful. This has elicited a steady flow of scathing rebukes from St. Pierre.
• Miriam White, a former NORML employee, claims NORML has not played fair with the Yippies over the years, dredging up decades-old animosity between Stroup and the '60s pranksters, who started the rally movement with smoke-ins in New York and Washington, DC just as Stroup founded the more buttoned-down NORML.
• Cheech & Chong chooses to co-sponsor their upcoming Get It Legal with the MPP, despite the fact that Tommy Chong is on NORML's Advisory Board. When asked why, Chong comments: "NORML consists mainly of lawyers who like to get high."
• The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) decides to partner with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) rather than NORML for their recent conference, setting off an explosive email response from St. Pierre.
I understand that the MPP is the new kid on the block, even though they are set to celebrate their 15th anniversary in January. They're certainly better funded than NORML and have made courting celebrities a major part of their campaign to build support. To some extent, the MPP has been successful in doing this at NORML's expense.
I think there's plenty of room for multiple organizations - NORML, MPP, DPA, SSDP, ASA, LEAP - to fight this fight. So why is NORML suddenly taking a back seat and receiving cheap shot after cheap shot? Some blame NORML for the ongoing struggle to legalize pot. The naysayers contend this should have happened in the '70s when the country was ripe for change and had support from a president (Jimmy Carter). When Carter backed away from decriminalization, NORML was seen as the culprit because Stroup outed White House drug czar Peter Bourne's cocaine use. If Stroup hadn't admitted to Jack Anderson that he saw Bourne snort a line or two at a party you think marijuana would be legal today? Highly doubtful.
The MPP came along during the marijuana boom of the '90s. So did CAN, ASA, Cannabis Culture, Heads, Skunk and many other competitors to NORML's (and High Times') hegemony. An outgrowth of NORML - MPP founders Rob Kampia and Chuck Thomas both worked at NORML before splintering off to form their own group - the MPP takes a "straighter" approach to the legalization issue. "We don't support the use of marijuana," Kampia once told me. "We support the right to use marijuana."
This semantical difference is reflected in the organizations' different styles: While NORML sponsors large rallies like Seattle Hempfest and Boston Freedom Rally, the MPP is content to do its work behind closed doors, lobbying legislators to initiate bills. NORML is also known for its legal eagles - get busted and who do you call? NORML, not the MPP.
But to suggest NORML has passed its expiration date because marijuana is still illegal is like saying Greenpeace should close up shop because they've yet to end global warming.
It's time for all of the marijuana activists and supporters to stop bickering and focus on the big picture. Together, in all our shapes and sizes, colors and religions, political beliefs and ideologies, we'll eventually achieve the ultimate goal. Then we'll have a big celebration and everyone will shake hands about a job well done. Until then, can't we just get along?
December 10, 2009