Presentation compiled and given by Josh Schimberg, Executive Director of Texas NORML, on Monday, November 21st. Josh was asked by the Professor Hirsch to speak about Texas NORML’s history, in the presentation.
Thanks to Prof. Hirsch for allowing me the opportunity, once again, to address one of his classes.
My name is Josh Schimberg, and I am the current Executive Director of Texas NORML, the Texas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, based here in Austin.
I have held this position for about 6 years, and during my tenure with Texas NORML , we have gone from an extremely low-budget non-profit with no official membership, to a well-known organization with hundreds of members from all over the state, multiple annual and semi-annual events, and continued strong growth for several years running.
We have also helped with efforts to lobby the Texas Legislature on marijuana decriminalization and medical marijuana; and we have worked with other organizations including, Texans for Medical Marijuana, Coalition of Texans for Compassionate Care, Drug Policy Forum of Texas, Marijuana Policy Project, Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, and the ACLU of Texas.
Texas NORML was formed in the mid 1970s, a few years after National NORML began, but since then hasn’t been continuously active.
The past decade has been the most active for Texas NORML, which burst onto the National media stage with the announcement in 2002 that the just retired Pro-Bowl Center for the Dallas Cowboys, Mark Stepnoski, was stepping up as the President for the state’s chapter.
Stepnoski had been a secret supporter of NORML for several years while he was still playing in the NFL, and he became a lifetime member in 1998.
It wasn’t until he announced his retirement in 2002 that he went public with his support of NORML, and was shortly thereafter named President for Texas NORML.
Stepnoski brought much more attention to NORML in Texas, and around the nation, including in an ESPN “Outside The Lines” special in early 2003 which detailed his support of NORML, and Texas NORML, and highlighted the Texas NORML Chapter specifically.
He also did many other media interviews regarding his position with NORML, and helped to lobby on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, as well as in Austin at the Texas State Capitol. And, Mark put tens of thousands of his own dollars into those efforts, which unfortunately earned very little progress towards achieving NORML’s goals.
Stepnoski’s stint as leader of Texas NORML was short lived, however, and he stepped down as President in late 2003 because he was planning a move to Vancouver, British Colubia, in Canada, which had recently seen a dramatic loosening of marijuana laws.
Since Stepnoski left Texas NORML, the chapter has been through several changes of leadership, but has been mostly solid over the past 6 years.
In those 6 years, we at Texas NORML have worked with students at the University of Texas to pass a student initiative calling for equalized penalties for alcohol and marijuana, known as the “SAFER” Initiative, and we have also lobbied at the State Capitol for changes to marijuana law such as a bill passed in 2007, HB 2391, which gives officers the option of not arresting suspects on the spot for possession of up to 4 ounces of marijuana.
But, the offense in these cases must be in the same county that the suspect resides in.
And, again, most importantly, this law is optional and most jurisdictions in the state do not use the option for minor marijuana arrests.
There are 2 bills which we have been working tirelessly on, every session for the past 8 years:
One is a medical marijuana “affirmative defense” bill, which would grant a legal affirmative defense to patients who use medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation, and would also protect those doctors from any punitive actions for their recommendations.
This bill has unfortunately never had a formal hearing in Committee, and has publicly had negative comments made about it by the Committee Chairpersons.
The other bill we’ve been focused on is an outright decriminalization bill which would reduce the penalty for possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana from a Class B to a Class C Misdemeanor, meaning no jail time and a fine only.
This decriminalization bill has had hearings in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee several times, but has never been voted out of that committee.
Of course, neither of those 2 bills would accomplish the end goal of NORML, and from time to time we do get negative comments about some of the legislation we support.
But, in our view, and that of NORML Nationally, we must support any possible step in the right direction, however small, in the hopes that it will be just one more step on the path to outright legalization.
Now, as I mentioned very briefly at the beginning, Texas NORML was formed a few years after National NORML.
National NORML itself, was founded in 1970, by Georgetown Law School graduate, Keith Stroup, around the same time that the “war on drugs” was officially announced by Pres. Richard Nixon.
It was also the same year that the Controlled Substances Act was passed by congress, which labeled marijuana a “Schedule I Controlled Substance” along with drugs such as heroin, LSD, & PCP.
The announcement by Pres. Nixon, of an all out war on drugs, and the placement of marijuana on the list of Schedule I Controlled substances, was in direct contradiction to what experts and administrators at that time were urging the Federal Government to do.
The Nixon Administration had created a commission to study the question, called the “National Commission on Marijuana & Drug Abuse”, also known as the Shafer Commission, named after the chairman, Raymond P. Shafer.
This commission was tasked with giving recommendations to the Nixon Administration in regards to drug laws, and specifically marijuana.
During his presentation of the commission’s First Report to Congress, Shafer recommended the decriminalization of marijuana in small amounts, saying:
“[T]he criminal law is too harsh a tool to apply to personal possession even in the effort to discourage use. It implies an overwhelming indictment of the behavior which we believe is not appropriate. The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only ‘with the greatest reluctance.”
Unfortunately, that last statement regarding our society’s reluctance to intrude on private behavior with criminal law, was and still is, greatly mistaken.
In the current fight for marijuana legalization, the Controlled Substances Act is front and center, and the reason for this is that any drug placed in the Schedule I controlled substances is considered by the Federal Government to have no medical uses whatsoever, and a high potential for addiction and abuse.
For these Schedule I drugs, even any research on them in the U.S. is strictly controlled by the DEA.
Any research that is given the OK by the DEA is done or funded by the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA), another agency of the Federal Government. And the NIDA has already admitted in public that their research goals are severely biased.
In early 2010, an NIDA spokesperson told the New York Times:
“..our focus is primarily on the negative consequences of marijuana use. We generally do not fund research focused on the potential beneficial medical effects of marijuana.”
But despite this, there is research being done, and what scientific data there is on marijuana does not corroborate the placing of it in Schedule I Controlled Substances.
Even the NIDA itself has listed marijuana as being less addictive than tobacco, alcohol, and even caffeine, as well as being less intoxicating than alcohol. They were forced to report these findings because it was data from research they funded.
Hundreds of other preclinical studies, not funded by the NIDA, have found real and significant potential medical benefits from marijuana, and even the American Medical Association has changed it’s official stance to recognize this.
In 2009, the American Medical Association went so far as to state that “smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and caloric intake, especially in patients with reduced muscle mass, and may relieve spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.”
Yes, the AMA has acknowledged that smoked cannabis can have significant medical benefits for some people.
The AMA concluded that rescheduling marijuana out of Schedule I would be beneficial.
NORML’s stance is to support the right of adults to use marijuana responsibly, whether for medical or personal purposes.
All penalties, both civil and criminal, should be eliminated for responsible use, including cultivation for personal use, and casual nonprofit transfers of small amounts.
This policy would effectively remove the marijuana consumer from the criminal justice system, saving more than 800,000 arrests in the U.S. every year.
Further, to eliminate the crime, corruption, and violence associated with any “black market,” NORML supports a legally regulated market to be established where adult consumers can buy marijuana in a safe and secure environment.
NORML also supports the legalization of hemp (a non-psychoactive variety of cannabis) for industrial use, which would allow farmers to have another profitable option for their fields; and could provide everything from food, textiles, and building materials, to fuel.
And NORML has been litigating it’s position since 1972 when it first filed a rescheduling petition with the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (the precursor to today’s DEA) seeking to have marijuana removed from Schedule I in the Controlled Substances Act.
The Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs refused to proceed with the petition, and subsequently so did the DEA.
There were, however, legislative attempts to reclassify marijuana by the House of Representatives, beginning in 1981 and continuing all the way to this year.
Meanwhile the legal wrangling between NORML and the DEA continued for more than a dozen years, when in 1986 the petition that was filed in 1972 finally saw it’s first Federal Hearing.
Those hearings lasted about 2 years, and in 1988, a DEA Administrative Law Judge, Francis Young, ruled that marijuana did not meet the legal criteria of a Schedule I prohibited drug and should be reclassified.
Judge Young declared that:
“Cannabis in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.
(T)he provisions of the (Controlled Substances) Act permit and require the transfer of marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II.”
That ruling and statement were direct, clear, and concise.
But, the DEA Administrator at the time, John Lawn, unilaterally overruled Judge Young’s findings, and denied the rescheduling petition anyway.
NORML again filed a similar rescheduling petition with the DEA in 1995, and the final rejection of that petition didn’t come until 2001.
Aside from findings such as those by Judge Young, the Federal Government was undertaking even more contradictory actions throughout that entire period of time.
In response to a separate lawsuit brought against not just the DEA, but also the Food and Drug Administration, NIDA, Dept. of Health, and the Justice Dept.,
the Federal Government settled out of court with the plaintiff, Robert Randall, and created a program called, the Investigational New Drug Program, which allowed Randall, and a few other select patients, to obtain Federally grown medical marijuana legally to treat medical conditions.
The marijuana provided to these patients by the Federal Government is grown in a farm at the University of Mississippi, and given to them in large tins of 300 pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes every month.
At it’s peak, this program had just 30 active patients, and in 1992 it was closed to new patients by then president, George H.W. Bush.
Today, there are only a handful of patients who still receive Federally grown medical marijuana, but it is still a slap in the face to the millions of Americans who could benefit from medical marijuana, but must risk jail time to do so.
Keith Stroup founded NORML in 1970 with the firm belief that marijuana would be legalized within 10 years, and his vision was on the verge of becoming reality when, in 1977, President Jimmy Carter, in an address to Congress, said this,
“Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marihuana in private for personal use… Therefore, I support legislation amending Federal law to eliminate all Federal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marihuana.”
Unfortunately, President Carter wasn’t around long enough to see that statement made into policy.
And the next administration, Ronald Reagan’s, took an opposite stance on marijuana, pushing for increased criminal penalties, and undertaking one of the biggest public policy failures related to drugs, also known as the “Just Say No” campaign.
Since 1980, when Reagan was elected, Federal and State government spending on the war on drugs has increased from less than $5 Billion annually, to more than $50 Billion; an exponential increase in just a few short decades.
That increase in drug war spending has coincided with a huge increase in incarceration rates, placing our country at the top of the list for countries who lock up their own citizens.
In that same time, 1980 to now, marijuana arrests (as reported by the FBI, which does not include all state & local data) have ballooned from 400,000 to 850,000; and of those 850,000 arrested for marijuana offenses last year, 90% were for possession only, a non-violent, victimless crime.
These increases in spending and incarceration have happened in an atmosphere lately where the public perception of marijuana has been increasingly based on scientific data and facts.
For instance, in 1977 when Pres. Jimmy Carter made his public statement in support of marijuana legalization, the Gallup polling organization found public support for marijuana legalization at just 28%, with opposition at 66%.
Halfway through the Reagan administration in 1985, Gallup found opposition to marijuana legalization at a whopping 73%, with support at just 23%.
By 2002, Gallup found that support for legalization had jumped significantly to more than 1 in 3,
and this year for the first time ever, Gallup reported that more Americans support marijuana legalization than oppose it, at 50% for and 46% against.
This massive increase in support comes on the heels of a huge expansion of medical marijuana laws, which have now been passed in 16 states and Washington D.C.
In the past decade, there have been a couple statewide ballot initiatives, in Nevada and California, which sought to legalize adult recreational use of marijuana,
and the initiative in California last year, Prop 19, was barely defeated with nearly 47% support.
Within the next 2 years, we will see several more statewide initiatives across the country seeking to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, including potential initiatives in California, Colorado, Missouri, Nevada, Washington, and perhaps other states like Oregon and Massachusetts.
In Congress, legislation is still being introduced year after year seeking to change marijuana laws at the Federal level.
Rep. Ron Paul, from Texas, has introduced marijuana legislation every year, seeking to federally protect medical marijuana patients, and seeking to federally legalize industrial hemp farming.
Plus, this year for the first time ever, members of the House of Representatives, led by Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, have introduced a bill to end the federal prohibition of marijuana.
HR 2306 seeks to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, removing all federal criminal penalties for marijuana except penalties for transport across the borders.
The substantial momentum that has built up in the public behind the push for marijuana legalization is due in part to the dedicated work of NORML activists across the country.
That is exactly what NORML’s mission statement says we are trying to do:
“To move public opinion sufficiently to achieve the repeal of marijuana prohibition so that the responsible use of cannabis by adults is no longer subject to penalty.”
The catch is that in order to succeed with our goals, NORML needs the help of people who agree.
And over the past decade NORML activists around the country, including right here in Austin with Texas NORML, have been successful in recruiting more and more people to help with our cause.
Of course, if you are interested and would like to know more about how to get involved with NORML, or how to join, I can help you with that.
I’d like to thank Prof. Hirsch again for this opportunity, and will now take a few questions if you have any.
Medical marijuana states:
Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington
HR 2306 Co-Sponsors, 19 total, not including author Barney Frank:
Eleanor Norton [D-DC]
Earl Blumenauer [D-OR3]
Michael Capuano [D-MA8]
Steve Cohen [D-TN9]
John Conyers [D-MI14]
Sam Farr [D-CA17]
Raul Grijalva [D-AZ7]
Michael Honda [D-CA15]
Dennis Kucinich [D-OH10]
Barbara Lee [D-CA9]
James McDermott [D-WA7]
James Moran [D-VA8]
Jerrold Nadler [D-NY8]
Ronald Paul [R-TX14]
Jared Polis [D-CO2]
Charles Rangel [D-NY15]
Dana Rohrabacher [R-CA46]
Janice Schakowsky [D-IL9]
Fortney Stark [D-CA13]