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December 07, 2007

NORML: still the wrong "R" (Historical, Logical)

I can’t be sure when I first read about NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), but I clearly remember seeing my first NORML tee shirt. Since I was already familiar with the name, but not the acronym, it must have been sometime before the Summer of 1978, which is when I saw the tee shirt across a crap table in a Nevada casino (we’d gone to North Lake Tahoe that Summer on vacation). However, it would be nearly twenty years later before I would discover drug policy reform as a cause and thus have reason to read High in America, Patrick Anderson’s engrossing 1981 account of how Keith Stroup, then a young lawyer, had founded NORML in response to the thousands of annual pot arrests already being generated by Richard Nixon’s 1969 “War on Drugs.”

As we were told very clearly by Dan Baum  in 1996, but seem to have great trouble remembering, young, white, pot smoking Baby Boomers like Stroup were the primary targets of the drug war; almost certainly because they were opposed to both Nixon and his prolongation of a futile war in Viet Nam. The resonance of the conditions Baum describes in the early Seventies with those of today is striking: another ill-advised overseas war (Iraq) is being supported by another less-than-honest Republican President stubbornly committed to both it and the failing drug war. What is different now is that we should have known better: we now have a prison population four times the size it was in 1970, the obvious beneficiaries of the drug war are so much more easily identified and so deeply committed that pot smokers, although also far more numerous, are understandaby less willing to be identified. We also now know that many of the pot users in California have been chronically (and effectively) self-medicating for a variety of common anxiety syndromes which have not only become common household words, but are being increasingly targeted by the Pharmaceutical Industry; even as they are still targets for self-medication by pot’s legal rivals, alcohol and tobacco.

One thing that hasn’t changed: Stroup  and NORML are still convinced that he and a majority of those NORML claims to represent are “recreational” users.

I’ve just reread Anderson’s introduction to High in America and found it, in the light of the extensive experience I’ve had with pot applicants over the past six years, to be even more prescient and helpful than first realized. It also convinced me that  Stroup’s and NORML’s stubborn refusal to give up their belief that “recreational “ use is the main reason for today’s spectacularly successful illegal market may be hurting their cause even more than their ill-advised alienation of potential allies in the Carter Administration in 1978.

It’s a no brainer: thoroughly bad policies should,  like Prohibition,  be  repealed; campaigning for the drug war's reform implies there’s some benefit in a thoroughly stupid and destructive policy that's worth saving.  

Some concrete examples soon...

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at December 7, 2007 04:51 AM