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Situation NORML

by FRED GARDNER

Allen St. Pierre, NORML’s longtime second-in-command, has succeeded Keith Stroup as national director. The Washington Post devoted a long article Jan. 4 to Stroup’s departure. Reporter Peter Carlson and his editors didn’t spare the lame puns we’ve come to expect when the subject is cannabis.

“Exhale, Stage Left,” was the inane headline. (“Left” means you want the working class to have power. Neither Keith Stroup nor NORML ever pursued such a goal.)

The subhead was misleading: “At 61, Longtime Marijuana Lobby Leader Keith Stroup Is Finally Leaving the Joint.” (Stroup is not giving up his drug of choice.)

Carlson visited Stroup at the NORML office in Washington. He remarks the irony of Stroup using Tylenol for a cold, but misses the significance (even the longtime head of NORML isn’t hip to the liver damage Tylenol causes).

“Stroup got the idea to form a pro-marijuana lobbying group in 1968,” writes Carlson. “It was the kind of pipe dream that floated through the heads of countless pot smokers during long nights of deep inhaling, but Stroup actually did it -hustling $5,000 in seed money from the Playboy Foundation…” (Was it really common for people to hallucinate business plans for non-profits?)

Worse than the Post’s dopey double-entendres is the bourgeois history: “In 1972, Stroup got unexpected help from an unlikely source: The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, appointed by President Nixon, issued its final report, concluding that marijuana is relatively harmless and that possession of less than an ounce should be legal. Nixon rejected the report, but Stroup used it as a lobbying tool in his increasingly successful campaign to reduce penalties for pot. In 1975, five states -Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine and Ohio- removed criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of the weed.”

The National Commission on Marijuana was formed in response to an authentic mass movement. By the end of the 1960s, millions of young Americans in the military and on the campuses were calling for an end to U.S. intervention in Vietnam and social and economic injustices at home.Many of them were also smoking marijuana. It was the movement that provided NORML with help -momentum, credibility; the Commission was part of the containment process (although some of its well-meaning members didn’t realize it). Led by Pennsylvania Governor Ray Shafer, the Commission conducted a year of hearings and concluded that possession of less than an ounce should be decriminalized -not “should be legal,” as per the Post story. “Decrim,” as the policy wonks call it, means that the citizen caught with a baggie of mj gets a ticket and pays a fine; he or she could be arrested and face criminal charges if caught again, or even on the first encounter if the cop doesn’t like the cut of his or her jib. The basic relationship between citizen and cop is unchanged. The citizen remains fearful and illegitimate.

NORML hailed the Commission’s support for decriminalization as a “win” and zealously pushed “decrim” measures at the state and city level, claiming credit for more and more wins. Movement bureaucrats assume that wins lead to donations and are forever taking credit for them. It’s amazing that things keep getting worse despite all those wins.

Stroup and others in the NORML leadership did not attack the Shafer Commission for remaining silent on a matter that it had been expected to address, a matter of utmost longterm importance: marijuana’s “Schedule 1” status (potential for abuse and no medical use) under the new federal Controlled Substances Act. Instead, NORML petitioned the Drug Enforcement Administration to reschedule marijuana, a gentlemanly process that dragged on for more than 20 years before a federal judge uttered the final “No”.

At some point in the 1980s (when Stroup was temporarily out of the leadership), NORML’s leaders stipulated that marijuana does indeed have a high potential for abuse! Their lawyers advised that medical use could be established easily, and dropping the safety question would speed the petition process to a successful conclusion. “Too clever by half,” the English might say. In Brooklyn they’d say, “Fuckin’ jackasses!”

Carlson casually slanders George Soros and Peter Lewis as he gets Stroup and Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project hissing at one another. “In the’90s, two new groups arose to advocate drug-law reform, each bankrolled by an eccentric billionaire. The Drug Policy Alliance is funded by financier George Soros. The Marijuana Policy Project, founded by former NORML staffer Rob Kampia, is funded by insurance mogul Peter Lewis. Both groups have spent millions on state referendums to legalize medical marijuana ­many successful, some not. But Stroup has failed to find an eccentric billionaire sugar daddy for NORML.

“‘I wish we had that kind of funding,’ he says. ‘If I had the kind of funding that Kampia has, I think I could have done a lot more with it than he has.'” This is sour grapes (not to mention elitism, as if only the top honchos determine what an organization achieves).

Carlson continues: “Now NORML limps by on about $750,000 a year, most of it raised from dues paid by about 12,000 members. It’s not enough money to do much politicking, so NORML is now largely a service organization for pot smokers, providing tips on beating drug tests and legal advice for arrested smokers.

“Over the past year money was so tight that Stroup laid off two staffers and stopped collecting his $75,000-a-year salary for two months.

“‘I view NORML as a small and shrinking dinosaur,’ says Kampia. ‘NORML’s time has come and gone.'” Gracious in victory, isn’t he? The MPP budget for 2004 exceeded $7 million. Peter Lewis of Progressive Insurance gave $4.65 million and most of the rest came in donations of $1,000 or more. MPP’s systematic dunning netted $426,000 in small donations ($25 or less) from suckers like you.

There’s not enough ideological difference between NORML and MPP to call this a faction fight. It’s been about money and private power. Maybe Allen St. Pierre and the NORML crew can change that by finding a way out of the single-issue trap.

“What Color is Montana?”

That’s the title of the lead essay in the New York Times Sunday Magazine by a writer named Walter Kirn, who seeks to explain why Montanans voted for President Bush in November, 2004, and also passed a medical marijuana initiative (by a 62-38 margin). “My guess,” writes Kirn, “is that they had lots of little private reasons -Grandpa just won’t eat since he got lung cancer; the Beatles smoked dope, but they sure did write great songs; the stuff can’t be any worse for you than Vioxx- and a handful of larger, more thoughtful reasons linked to concerns about personal liberty, prescription-drug costs and states’ rights.”

Kirn’s guess is correct, for sure, but the reasons he lists second are not “larger, more thoughtful” than the reasons he lists first. A person can be “thoughtful,” a reason can’t. (A reason can be “abstract.” The Times used to pay people to catch these things.)

Too bad Senator Kerry didn’t realize he had a winning issue. It’s not entirely his fault. In mid-October Kerry told an interviewer for an Oregon TV station that, if elected, he would not allow DEA raids on people growing and distributing marijuana under state law. But the corporate media ignored the bold pledge to reverse Bush Administration policy, and MPP and other movement publicists did almost nothing to amplify or bring it to national attention.

Good old Scientific American

“Marijuana has clear medicinal benefits,” Roger A. Nicoll and Bradley N. Alger state unambiguously in an article in the December 2004 Scientific American. “Marijuana alleviates pain and anxiety. It can prevent the death of injured neurons. It suppresses vomiting and enhances appetite-useful features for patients suffering the severe weight loss that can result from chemotherapy.”

Nicoll is a professor of pharmacology at UC San Francisco, Alger a professor of physiology and psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Their article, entitled “The Brain’s Own Marijuana,” focuses on how the endocannabinoid system was discovered and how it works. An accompanying editorial calls on the federal government “to make it easier for American researchers to at least examine marijuana for possible medical benefits.”

FRED GARDNER can be reached at journal@ccrmg.org

 

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Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.com

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