CANNABIS CULTURE – The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is a nonprofit public-interest lobby that has, for more than 30 years, provided a voice for citizens who oppose marijuana prohibition.

NORML represents the interests of the tens of millions of North Americans who smoke pot responsibly, and we lobby state and federal officials to abolish criminal penalties for both the recreational and medicinal use of cannabis.

NORML spearheaded successful legislative efforts in a dozen states to eliminate criminal penalties for the use and possession of small amounts of pot, and today prides itself as a consumers’ lobby that represents and stands accountable to our stakeholders: the marijuana users. In this regard, NORML operates with dual missions – unlike many other drug law reform organizations.

On the macro level, NORML works to liberalize cannabis policy through a broad range of legislative, judicial and grassroots educational efforts including: testifying before state and federal agencies and legislatures; providing legal counsel and filing amicus curiae briefs in high profile criminal and civil cases (amicus curiae is “a party that is not involved in a particular litigation but allowed by the court to advise it on a matter of law directly affecting the litigation”); organizing the only annual drug-law reform conference in the United States; communicating weekly with over 1,000 national and international media outlets; and producing 35 minutes of original, daily cannabis-centric audio content via NORML’s popular podcast: the NORML AudioStash.

On the micro level, NORML works tirelessly responding to the day-to-day needs of its individual members. These activities include: providing legal assistance (both legal advice and legal counsel via NORML’s 550+ affiliated attorneys); publishing the most up-to-date medical reports regarding cannabis use and health; navigating our members through workplace drug testing programs; updating our website daily with new content on the latest pot happenings around the globe; providing the only available US state-by-state breakdown of criminal and civil marijuana laws (including information on medical marijuana, tax stamps, hashish, and DUID [Driving Under the Influence of Drugs] laws); educating patients and their physicians on the latest scientific findings pertaining to the therapeutic uses of cannabis; organizing various state, local, and campus initiatives via NORML’s 100+ chapter affiliate network; and, new in 2007, providing life insurance to select cannabis consumers.

Successes in 2006
As we begin this new year of activism, it is useful to look at some of NORML’s 2006 accomplishments, many of which we will continue to build upon throughout 2007 and beyond.

In 2006, NORML and NORML affiliates testified in favor of sensible marijuana policies in numerous states including California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Tennessee; played a pivotal role in efforts to successfully amend zero tolerance DUID legislation in Ohio and Virginia, as well as to enact pot ‘de-prioritization’ measures in several municipalities including San Francisco (CA), Santa Barbara (CA), and Eureka Springs (AR). NORML members also generated more than 100,000 letters to their elected officials in support of state and federal pot-law reform efforts.

NORML partnered with, and raised tens of thousands of dollars for, SAFER (Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation) Colorado’s “Marijuana-Alcohol Equalization Initiative” campaign, which argued that marijuana smoking poses less of a health and public safety risk than the use of alcohol. The measure gained 41 percent of the public vote, received endorsements from numerous state editorial boards, and gained international media attention.

NORML’s Legal Committee successfully litigated a multitude of criminal and civil cases impacting marijuana policy. These include: County of San Diego v. San Diego NORML and the State of California, which ruled that California’s decade-long medical cannabis law may not be pre-empted by federal anti-pot policies; Jakubowicz et al v. Dittemore, which determined that random drug testing for select public employees violates US Constitutional protections against unreasonable searches by the state; and State of Vermont v. Miller, which ruled that the presence of marijuana’s inactive metabolite in a driver’s bodily fluids is not per se “admissible evidence that the defendant was operating a motor vehicle under the influence of a drug.”

NORML produced several objective scientific reports addressing various aspects of cannabis use and health – including an assessment of the psychomotor impact of cannabis on driving (“You Are Going Directly to Jail: DUID Legislation: What It Means, Who’s Behind It, and Strategies to Prevent It”), a detailed analysis of the anti-cancer properties of cannabis and cannabinoids (“Cannabinoids as Cancer Hope”), as well as in-depth assessment of pot’s effects on the brain (“Cannabis and the Brain: A User’s Guide”) and mental health (“Cannabis, Mental Health and Context: The Case for Regulation”). In the latter half of 2006, NORML published two additional important reports: “Cannabis Smoke and Cancer: Assessing the Risk,” and “Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis & Cannabinoids: A Review of the Recent Scientific Literature: 2000-2006.” The first report is a comprehensive examination of the differences between cannabis smoke and tobacco smoke, and concludes that marijuana smoking is seldom, if ever, linked to the development of various cancers – including lung cancer and upper respiratory tract cancers. The second report summarizes the findings of more than 140 recent clinical and preclinical studies examining the use of cannabinoids to moderate the progression of various life-threatening diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and diabetes. NORML’s report is the first to review the growing evidence that cannabis can be used not only to provide symptomatic relief, but also to alter the course of various progressive illnesses. All of these reports are available on NORML’s website at: www.norml.org

As it has in years past, NORML coordinated and hosted numerous prominent conferences throughout 2006, including a three-day annual drug law reform conference in California attended by more than 500 reform-minded citizens. NORML also hosted a pair of legal seminars – one in Colorado and another in Florida – as well as handful of affiliated-sponsored workshops in Missouri, Oregon, Washington, and elsewhere across the US.

NORML’s sister organization, the NORML Foundation, commissioned a nationwide poll by Zogby International which found that nearly one out of every two Americans support amending federal law “to let states legally regulate and tax marijuana the way they do liquor and gambling,” This result is arguably the highest level of support for pot legalization ever reported in the US in a national poll. According to the poll, 46 percent of respondents – including a majority of those polled on the east (53 percent) and west (55 percent) coasts – said they supported legalization. Nearly two-thirds of 18-29 year-olds (65 percent) and half of 50-64 year-olds think federal law should be amended to allow states the option to regulate marijuana. The poll, for the first time, illustrates both geographically and demographically, where NORML’s strongest US support lies, and where (and to whom) the organization needs to focus our future educational efforts in order to one day achieve majority public support for reform.

Finally, 2006 marked the inception of the first daily podcast dedicated to drug law reform, the NORML Daily AudioStash: “The Growing Truth About Marijuana” online at www.normlaudiostash.com. Since the program’s June launch, over 800,000 listeners have downloaded more than 100 30-minute episodes – ranking the AudioStash as one of the most popular political audio programs available on the Internet, drawing larger audiences than programs produced by the White House, New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, the US Council on Foreign Affairs and the Pentagon. The AudioStash elevates NORML’s already extensive online presence, joining NORML’s 50,000+ members list-serv, and the ever-popular NORML.org website – which topped more than 12 million visitors in 2006.

Plans for 2007
In 2007, NORML will build upon these endeavors and take on many new projects to better serve the interests of the pot consumer. With the recent Democratic shift in Congress, NORML expects to raise its profile on Capitol Hill to lobby in favor of more rational-based pot policies. In January, NORML plans to distribute bound booklets of our “Emerging Clinical Applications” report to the new Congress (and numerous state legislators and medical associations as well). NORML also expects to work closely with the Democratic leadership in 2007 to coordinate the first Congressional hearings in favor of the legal use of medical cannabis in over a decade, and the introduction of the first Congressional bill in nearly 30 years seeking to end all federal criminal penalties for the possession and use of small amounts of pot. Regarding the latter effort, NORML has already secured bi-partisan support from several members of Congress and expects that the introduction of this federal legislation will stimulate a renewed, and long-overdue, public debate regarding the merits of marijuana ‘decriminalization.’

As well as NORML’s 2007 Congressional efforts, NORML and its local affiliates will continue to push forward with various state legislative endeavors in favor of legal access to medical marijuana, sentencing reform, and in opposition to zero tolerance DUID legislation. NORML will also continue to partner with SAFER and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) to sponsor various campus-wide efforts to reduce university pot penalties. Last year, the three organizations teamed up to pass initiatives at Florida State University, the University of Maryland, and the University of Texas at Austin calling on campus officials to reduce pot sanctions so that they are no greater than university-imposed penalties for alcohol possession. (Students approved the initiatives at all three campuses, but university administrations have resisted implementation.)

In 2007 NORML also expects to host a series of regional, activist-oriented workshops – in addition to our annual conference and legal seminars – as well as publish the first ever hard copy edition of our comprehensive guide to state marijuana laws and penalties. Members of NORML’s legal committee are also coordinating efforts to form a “Strategic Litigation Committee” to provide rapid response efforts in select cases. In particular, the Committee is seeking to take on cases where a) parents have been denied child custody because they smoke marijuana responsibly; b) patients have been denied medical treatment and/or organ transplants because of their previous medical cannabis use; and c) motorists have been charged with DUID because they have tested positive for the presence of marijuana’s inactive metabolite.

Finally, NORML looks most forward in 2007, as in past years, to doing our best to serve you: the responsible marijuana smoker. Naturally, the size, scope and extent of our efforts depend on you, and are only made possible when concerned citizens become involved with NORML and marijuana law reform. Please resolve this year to become NORML, and in turn, to help us bring an end to North America’s war on marijuana smokers.

Are you NORML? If you smoke pot, or have friends and family who do, then pledge to make 2007 the year that you become NORML and help end the prohibition of marijuana.

• Paul Armentano is the senior policy analyst for NORML and the NORML Foundation in Washington, DC. For more information on joining NORML or making a donation please visit www.norml.org