National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
Founded 1970
Founder Keith Stroup, Esq.
Focus Legalization or decriminalization of marijuana in the United States
  • Washington, D.C.
Area served
United States
Key people
Allen St. Pierre, Richard Cowan, Keith Stroup, Norm Kent

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML /ˈnɔːrməl/) is an American non-profit organization based in Washington, DC whose aim is to move public opinion sufficiently to achieve the legalization of non-medical marijuana in the United States so that the responsible use of cannabis by adults is no longer subject to penalty. According to their website, NORML "supports the removal of all criminal penalties for the private possession and responsible use of marijuana by adults, including the cultivation for personal use, and the casual nonprofit transfers of small amounts," and "supports the development of a legally controlled market for cannabis."[1] NORML and the NORML Foundation support both those fighting prosecution under marijuana laws and those working to legalize marijuana. Similar affiliated organizations operate under the NORML banner in other countries, among them NORML New Zealand, NORML Ireland,[2] NORML Canada, NORML UK and NORML France - Hemp & Freedom.

In the 2006 United States midterm elections, NORML promoted several successful local initiatives that declared marijuana enforcement to be the lowest priority for local law enforcement. NORML claims that this frees up police resources to combat violent and serious crime.[3]


NORML was founded in 1970 by Keith Stroup funded by $5,000 from the Playboy Foundation. Since then, the organization has played a central role in the cannabis decriminalization movement. At the start of the 1970s, the premier decriminalization organizations were Legalize Marijuana, better known as LeMar, and Amorphia, the two of which merged in 1971.[4] The next year, Amorphia led the unsuccessful campaign for California's marijuana legalization initiative, Proposition 19.[5] In 1974, Amorphia merged with NORML.[4]

By the middle of the 1970s, Playboy owner Hugh Hefner's generous financial support through the Playboy Foundation set NORML apart from its predecessors, making it the premier decriminalization advocacy group. At one point, Hefner was donating $100,000 a year to NORML.[6]

The organization has a large grassroots network with 135 chapters and over 550 lawyers. NORML holds annual conferences and Continuing Legal Education (CLE)-accredited seminars. Its board of directors has, at times, included such prominent political figures as Senators Philip Hart, Jacob K. Javits, and Ross Mirkarimi.[7]

In 1989, Donald Fiedler succeeded John Gettman as the executive director of NORML. In August 1992, Richard Cowan became executive director of NORML. Keith Stroup became executive director once again in 1995 after Cowan stepped down.

NORML Foundation

The NORML Foundation, the organization's tax-exempt unit, conducts educational and research activities. Examples of the NORML Foundation's advocacy work is a detailed 2006 report, Emerging Clinical Applications For Cannabis.[8] A comprehensive report with county-by-county marijuana arrest data, Crimes of Indiscretion: Marijuana Arrest in America, was published in 2005.[9]

In October 1998, NORML Foundation published the NORML Report on U.S. Domestic Marijuana Production that was widely cited in the mainstream media. The report methodically estimated the value and number of cannabis plants grown in 1997, finding that Drug Enforcement Administration, state and local law enforcement agencies seized 32% of domestic cannabis plants planted that year. According to the report, "Marijuana remains the fourth largest cash crop in America despite law enforcement spending an estimated $10 billion annually to pursue efforts to outlaw the plant."[10] Recent studies show that marijuana is larger than all other cash crops combined.[11] In 2002, the organization used ads containing New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg quotes on his past use of pot, saying "You bet I did. And I enjoyed it." The mayor said "I’m not thrilled they’re using my name. I suppose there’s that First Amendment that gets in the way of me stopping it," but maintained that the NYPD will continue to vigorously enforce the laws.[12]

Media and activism

Signs advertising NORML at the Twin Cities Pride Parade

As an advocacy group, NORML has been active in spreading its message to the public.

In early 2009, a petition to President Barack Obama was written asking that he appoint a "Drug Czar" who will treat drug abuse as a health issue rather than a criminal issue and will move away from a "War on Drugs" paradigm. NORML's goal for this petition was 100,000 signatures.

Also in early 2009, when the Kellogg Company dropped its contract with Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps after pictures of him using a bong surfaced in the media, head members of NORML began boycotting Kellogg products and urging all members and supporters of NORML to boycott Kellogg, until the company reversed the decision. NORML also suggested that supporters of the cause send emails or letters to Kellogg explaining the boycott and the reasons behind it, even providing a template for emails and letters. Although Kellogg's profits did not suffer in the first quarter of 2009,[13] consumer ratings polls at Vanno[14] have been cited as indicating that Kellogg's reputation has suffered. Specifically, a small poll of Kellogg's brand reputation at Vanno showed a drop from its previous rank of 9 to 83 after Kellogg decided not to renew its contract with Michael Phelps.[15][16] It is not clear whether or not NORML's boycott played a significant role in this decline.

On April 20, 2009, NORML released the first national pro-marijuana television advertisement. The PSA, which overtly promotes the legalization of marijuana use, was created by Philadelphia filmmaker Jason Druss as an entry into NORML's annual video contest. The television commercial was discussed in the April 20, 2009 edition of The New York Times, CBS News, as well as hundreds of blogging and news websites.

On February 15, 2010, a 15-second Flash animation from NORML discussing the potential economic and financial benefit of legalized marijuana was deemed by CBS to be "too political" to display on billboards in New York City's Times Square. This drew criticism in the blogosphere and accusations of hypocrisy on Twitter, since CBS had recently aired an anti-abortion television spot during the 2010 Super Bowl.[17] CBS reversed its decision and the ad was debuted on the CBS Times Square Superscreen on April 20, 2010.[18]

See also


  1. "NORML Policy on Personal Use". NORML. 2004-10-03. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-04-03. Retrieved 2016-02-07.
  3. "NORML: Frequently Asked Questions". National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
  4. 1 2 Joshua Clark Davis. (November 6, 2014). The Long Marijuana-Rights Movement. Archived September 11, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. The Huffington Post. Retrieved August 3, 2016.
  5. Joshua Clark Davis, The Business of Getting High: Head Shops, Countercultural Capitalism, and the Marijuana Legalization Movement, The Sixties: A Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, Summer 2015
  6. Joshua Clark Davis, The Business of Getting High: Head Shops, Countercultural Capitalism, and the Marijuana Legalization Movement, The Sixties: A Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, Summer 2015
  7. Carlson, Peter (January 4, 2005). "Exhale, Stage Left". Washington Post. p. C01.
  8. "Recent Research on Medical Marijuana". National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. 2007-02-03. Retrieved 2007-04-22.
  9. "Crimes of Indiscretion". National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. 2005-03-07. Retrieved 2007-04-22.
  10. "NORML Report on U.S. Domestic Marijuana Production". National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. 2005-03-07. Retrieved 2007-04-22.
  11. Bailey, Eric (2006-12-18). "Pot is called biggest cash crop". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-04-22.
  12. NYC Mayor Bloomberg's Pot Use is NORML: Archived June 22, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. Scott Eden (2009-04-30). "Kellogg Beats Targets Despite Weaker Sales". TheStreet. Retrieved 2010-08-21.
  14. Archived May 1, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  15. "Dumping Phelps Over Bong Rip Damages Kellogg's Brand Reputation". The Business Insider. 2009-02-23. Retrieved 2009-04-20.
  16. "Kellogg's Brand Damaged By Dumping Michael Phelps". The Huffington Post. 2009-02-24. Retrieved 2009-04-20.
  17. "CBS rejects NORML legalization billboard, but accepts "Black Children are an Endangered Species" anti-abortion billboard". NORML. 2010-02-15. Retrieved 2010-08-21.
  18. "Foundation To Launch Second NYC Times Square Billboard Campaign New Ad Debuts On April 20 On The CBS Super Screen". NORML. Retrieved 2010-08-21.

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