This is an exciting time at NORML. As some of you may already know, at this year's NORML Conference I announced my plans to step aside as executive director of NORML effective at the end of this year. I have been privileged to serve in this capacity for nearly 20 years of the organization's 34 year history: first from NORML's founding in 1970 through 1979; and more recently from 1995, when the board asked me to again take over the helm of the organization.
I do expect to remain active on the NORML board of directors, and to continue to help shape the goals and develop strategy for the organization. The new executive director will need our full support to complete the work we have begun.
The opportunity to work for a public policy advocacy organization like NORML has special meaning to me. I first began smoking marijuana in 1965 when I was a first year law student at Georgetown Law Center, and I have been a responsible smoker ever since.
Marijuana has always provided me with a degree of introspection that allows me to step back and examine my work, and my life, with some helpful detachment. I suspect that many of you also find marijuana smoking to be not just an enjoyable experience, but a helpful exercise in working through the many challenges we face in a complex world.
So you might wonder why I have decided to step aside from this wonderful job. The answer is simple. I turned 60 years of age a few months ago, and the occasion caused me to question whether someone younger, and with more energy and a more youthful perspective, should be running NORML. The answer was obvious.
It is time for new leadership at NORML, both to re-energize the organization, and to bring a fresh perspective to the challenges we face.
The NORML board of directors has begun the task of selecting my replacement. The board will be working through this selection process over the next few months, and we anticipate announcing the new executive director well before the start of the new year.
We Need Your Help
At this time, and with my retirement in mind, I am writing to ask that you do two important things. First, please make a substantial donation to NORML or the NORML Foundation over the next few weeks, to help us get through the summertime months of marijuana law reform activity, a period when our donations frequently decline.
This summer we helped build grassroots support in advance of the vote on the Hinchey/Rohrabacher amendment in Congress, which would cut off funding for the federal government to enforce federal law against patients and caregivers in the ten states that have legalized medical marijuana under state law. Unfortunately, this vote to check federal powers once again failed to win majority support (nea = 268, yea = 148).
Since the Republican leadership in Congress refuses to schedule hearings or a committee vote on HR 2233, the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act, a vote on this proposal was the marijuana law reform movement's best chance in 2004 to force Congress to address this important issue.
Also, the U.S. Supreme Court has just agreed to once again hear a medical marijuana case from California, Ashcroft v Raich, et al. This case is terribly important for the future of patient access to medical marijuana. With support from NORML members like you, we'll file a friend-of-the-court brief in this crucial federal challenge to state-sanctioned patient access to medical marijuana.
Second, please lend your full support, both financial and political, to the new executive director, once that individual has been selected by the board. Frankly, the responsibilities of NORML's executive director are truly daunting. Raising the resources to adequately fund NORML's programs, and serving as the principal spokesperson for marijuana law reform in the national media, make this position extremely important, and extremely challenging.
Thirty Four Years of Fighting Goliath
I'm sure I do not have to tell you how difficult it has been for NORML to challenge the government's absurd marijuana policy for the last 34 years. The Biblical tale of David and Goliath comes to mind, and for all these years it has been NORML holding the slingshot, while the government spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year with their anti-marijuana propaganda machine going full bore.
Yet, even against these odds, NORML has made some tremendous progress over the years:
* All 50 states have reduced penalties for minor marijuana offenses from a felony to a misdemeanor;
* 12 states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Ohio and Oregon) have decriminalized minor marijuana offenses;
* 10 states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington) have legalized the medical use of marijuana for serious ill patients.
* Perhaps most important of all, we have largely won the hearts and minds of the American public. Current polling data indicates 73% of the public support a fine only penalty for the personal use of marijuana, regardless of whether it is being used recreationally or medically; and 80% of the public support the medical use of marijuana. Those are levels of public support we have never previously reached.
Head Start for NORML's New Leader
NORML's next executive director is going to need to "hit the ground running." That individual will need your full support to meet the challenge of converting the majority public support we now enjoy into sound public policy.
As I prepare to complete my second term as executive director here at NORML, I am both frustrated and proud. I am naturally frustrated that the job we began 34 years ago, legalizing marijuana and stopping the arrest of responsible marijuana smokers, has taken so long to accomplish. Honestly, when I founded NORML, I thought we would achieve this change in public policy within a decade.
While the process of reform has moved terribly slowly, and the pace of change has sometimes been glacial, the clear truth is that we are positioned now with the public support necessary to finally achieve these goals. I firmly believe my successor at NORML will finally achieve the goals we have sought for all these many years.
And I'm frustrated that I have not done a better job of raising money for NORML. We do not have a "super-rich" backer who can write a check and pay the costs of our program. We honestly rely on the contributions from individual smokers and lovers of liberty to fund our program. We are the smokers' lobby.
And, I'm immensely proud.
I'm proud that NORML has become the recognized lobby for marijuana smokers in America and in many other countries around the world. I'm proud that 24% of all Americans say they're familiar with NORML's name and know what we do; and that 87% of current marijuana smokers have a favorable impression of NORML.
And I'm proud that as an organization of concerned citizens, we have together stood tall for the principle that there is nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana, and it should be of no interest or concern to the government. In the face of a government who arrests 700,000 citizens annually on marijuana charges, at NORML, we've never let our fear of arrest and harassment by the government compromise our political principles.
Finally, I'm proud that NORML has since its beginning given a high priority to the task of providing help to the victims of marijuana prohibition -- the hundreds of thousands of Americans arrested each year on marijuana charges. Until we can end prohibition, we must do our best to try to minimize the harm caused to so many of our citizens by these unfair laws.
On a regular basis, and with the help of the 300 plus attorneys who serve on the NORML Legal Committee, we provide legal assistance to citizens arrested for smoking marijuana, both medical users and others; to students who are faced with the loss of their student loans; to parents who are fighting to retain or regain custody of their children following a marijuana arrest or positive drug screen; and workers facing the possible loss of employment because of drug testing.
Without NORML, many of these people would have no where to turn for help.
As a fellow NORML supporter, I hope you are equally as proud of NORML's work and our legacy as an organization protecting the civil rights of marijuana smokers.
Thanks for Your Trust and Support
Through the good times and the bad, I want to thank each of you for all the years of support you have provided to both NORML and to me. It has been a fascinating journey and a wonderfully rewarding experience.
Please make a timely donation now to NORML and/or the NORML Foundation, in recognition of our work over the last 34 years, as well as the important work that lies ahead. Without a billionaire supporter to cover our expenses, a luxury that some reform organizations currently enjoy, NORML depends entirely on the generous support of individual marijuana smokers to fund our work.
Like other successful people's movements of the recent past I believe that only through the active participation of marijuana smokers and defenders of civil liberties themselves will we ultimately succeed in persuading the body politic to end marijuana prohibition once and for all.
You can make a drastic difference in improving NORML's important law reform work by accomplishing one simple task: Reach one, Teach one.
Please encourage one of your like-minded friends, family members or co-workers to join you in supporting NORML.
Contributions can be made online; by mail; or by calling NORML's toll free number (888-67-NORML).
With warmest regards,
R. Keith Stroup, Esq.
NORML Founder and Executive Director
P.S. As an incentive to be especially generous to NORML and the NORML Foundation at this time, we're offering some great new gifts. For those contributions of $250 and above, you'll receive a beautiful crystal glass ashtray engraved with the NORML logo; for gifts of $150 and $200, two lovely cut-glass coasters engraved with the NORML logo; or a newly designed NORML t-shirt.