Don Wirtshafter removed from NORML board

Don Wirtshafter (right, in white with ponytail) and the NORML Board. [Photo by Chadman]
In the last eight months, Cannabis Culture published several articles describing potential legal and financial conflicts between High Times magazine, its parent company Trans-High Corporation (THC), and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Our articles focused on a Trust set up by deceased High Times founder Tom Forcade. According to Trust documents, and observers such as marijuana cultivation guru and publisher Ed Rosenthal, Forcade’s will intended significant amounts of money and other assets be given to NORML during the last three decades.

Sources alleged that assets earmarked for NORML weren’t delivered to the organization and had been diverted by High Times trustees, and that NORML’s refusal to pursue the “missing money” was inexplicable.

We have since received new information about the Forcade Trust, NORML and High Times that will appear in our print version of Cannabis Culture available this summer; our earlier stories were fueled by highly-placed individuals who refused to allow us to name them in our articles.

Don Wirtshafter, a NORML boardmember, attorney and hemp industry pioneer, told us he had been accused of being a source for our articles. He said he was being unfairly attacked by NORML officials because of his alleged public and private statements about the NORML-High Times situation.

On May 20th, during a meeting of the NORML board, Wirtshafter was removed from the Board by a majority of members present at the meeting. Cannabis Culture has so far been unable to determine how many of NORML’s 19-member board were actually in attendance at the meeting, but according to Wirtshafter, the vote to remove him was 6-1, with Wirtshafter voting against removal, and Dale Gieringer, Vice Chairman of the board and head of California-NORML, abstaining.

Keith Stroup, NORML’s executive director who was just named “Freedom Fighter of the Year” by High Times, said Wirtshafter’s removal was a difficult decision.

“All of us like Donny,” Stroup said, while attending the Drug Policy Foundation conference taking place the same day as the board meeting. “He’s made a lot of contributions to the movement and to NORML. But his actions were causing some of our donors to have questions about whether they could continue to help NORML. We also felt that the best way to handle the situation was internally, in the movement, rather than in a way that might harm NORML or give ammunition to the enemies of drug policy reform and marijuana decriminalization.”

Other NORML boardmembers, including Gieringer, Chairman Dan Viets and Dr John Morgan, said they had “mixed feelings” about the removal.

Wirtshafter, speaking from his Ohio home, said he was surprised when his board position became a topic at the May 20th meeting.

“I was not prepared to deal with the [NORML trust] issue that day,” he said. “I was waiting for a report on the Trust and some other information. I didn’t even want to talk about it. I had no idea they were going to vote on my membership.”

Although he is a board member for other organizations, such as the Hemp Industries Association and the Tropical Conservation Association, Wirtshafter admitted he’ll miss the opportunity to directly influence NORML policies.

“It really was never all about the Forcade trust,” Wirtshafter said. “It has to do with NORML’s willingness to change. The board should acknowledge that there’s stagnation in the organization, that it needs to be more responsive to grassroots activists, that it should allow three of board seats to be elected by NORML’s general membership, which was supposed to happen a long time ago, but has not happened. I am saddened by this episode, but I intend to keep on helping the movement in whatever way I can.”

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