By Luke Sumpter

As a hub of cannabis activism and a driving force for social justice, NORML has had a profound impact on cannabis policy changes and education over the last few decades.Discover the history of NORML, how they have influenced marijuana law reform, and their current cannabis campaigning initiatives.

Understanding NORML: An Overview

To understand NORML’s significance, we must first understand the nature of the advocacy group, whose acronym stands for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. As a social welfare organisation, NORML set out with the intention of diving into the public policy debate surrounding cannabis, with the goal of catalysing positive change and countering rampant anti-marijuana propaganda that affected the plant’s legal status in many countries for decades. The group has spearheaded initiatives to decriminalise cannabis offences across various states, continues to campaign for responsible use, and hasn’t stopped advocating for evidence-based policy reform.

Continue reading to discover the history, structure, and key achievements of NORML and their effect on cannabis policy across the world.

Norml an overwiew

Mission and Vision of NORML

Peeling back the layers of NORML’s mission reveals an effective and delicate approach to advocacy. As opposed to the somewhat aggressive and sensationalist strategy of other activist groups, NORML lays their work on a foundation of scientific evidence and rationality. By championing the rights of the individual, referencing contemporary research, and highlighting education, the group has harnessed a rational approach to bring awareness to the inaccuracies of anti-cannabis propaganda and influence policy reform.

Not only has NORML managed to sway legislation in some instances, but they continue to help adult users develop a responsible relationship with cannabis. Overall, NORML aims to prompt policy to catch up with the available science, enabling adult citizens to use cannabis in a reasonable manner without the threat of prosecution.

The History of NORML

Despite the impact NORML has made on cannabis policy reform so far, the advocacy group sprang from surprisingly humble beginnings. The history of NORML spans back to Washington D.C. in the year 1970. Here, friends Larry Schott and Keith Stroup met while working together for the National Commission on Product Safety. Stroup worked as a lawyer within this organisation, and Schott was the Chief Investigator for the Commission.

As their relationship grew, Schott cultivated a deeper curiosity and appreciation of cannabis with his counterpart, and the two set about kick-starting NORML after seeing friends subject to unfair cannabis prosecutions. Things started out slowly, but an unlikely $5,000 donation from The Playboy Foundation enabled the pair to set up an office in 1971.

After lobbying the Nixon administration to decriminalise marijuana in the United States, NORML merged with advocacy group Amorphia in 1974, which became the California chapter of the organisation. As the Nixon era came to a close and five states passed decriminalisation bills in 1975, NORML started gaining traction, especially off the back of its annual conference that platformed legislators and activists alike.

During the 1980s, NORML hit a difficult patch. The “Just Say No” movement, internal disagreements, and financial troubles put the organisation to the test. Despite this, the group went on to petition the US government to remove cannabis from the Schedule 1 classification during this decade, improved the plant’s public image, and started receiving significant donations. Throughout the late 1990s, NORML became stable and received increasing public support as California gave the green light for medical marijuana in 1996.

During the 2006 midterm election, NORML managed to push multiple fruitful initiatives that declared marijuana offences low-priority for the police. In 2009, the group managed to gain 100,000 signatures to petition Obama to appoint a drug czar who views drug use as a health problem instead of just a legal offence. After Kellogg Company ditched their contract with Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps after images emerged of him hitting a bong, NORML led a boycott against the brand. In 2010, NORML put on a 15-second animation touting the economic and financial benefits of cannabis on the CBS Times Square Superscreen in April.

NORML’s Big Achievements

Alongside their public-facing activism, NORML has successfully teamed up with hundreds of lawyers and developed numerous local chapters with the aim of influencing cannabis policy on both the local and national levels in different countries. Check out their biggest achievements, so far, below:

Achivements Norml
  • Decriminalisation lobbying: NORML has helped to reduce prosecutions for marijuana offences in several states within the US. In 1971, the group successfully lobbied to decriminalise minor cannabis offences in 11 states, as well as significantly reducing penalties in others.
  • Largest marijuana legalization organisation: NORML currently stands proudly as both the largest and oldest marijuana legalization organisation in the United States. They have faced tough challenges and cases of animosity throughout their journey, but have overcome these obstacles to make real-world changes in cannabis policy.
  • Legal assistance: Through the NORML Foundation, the advocacy group has teamed up with hundreds of lawyers to provide legal assistance to individuals who have fallen victim to current cannabis laws.
  • Public education: The NORML Foundation has also set out to counter the rampant anti-cannabis propaganda of previous decades. By consulting the available evidence and research, the foundation has provided a clearer, evidence-based image of cannabis and cannabis use to countless people.
  • Media outreach: NORML has established contacts in the mainstream media and has secured a platform on several major news channels. Their presence on the airwaves has created more of a balanced dialogue around cannabis use, safety, and policy.

NORML’s Impact on Marijuana Law Reform

Concerned chiefly with cannabis activism and social justice, NORML’s advocacy extends far beyond legislative chambers and courtrooms. However, through direct lobbying and education, the group has managed to reshape the legal landscape by prompting lawmakers to rethink their approach to cannabis regulation.

The group has also mustered its supporters to act en masse to help drive legislative changes. The NORML Take Action Centre[1] provides pre-written letters that individuals can send to both federal and state politicians for these purposes. Currently, federal campaigns include prompting politicians to expand marijuana pardons and clemency and to stop federal housing discrimination against lawful cannabis users. State campaigns include reducing marijuana possession penalties in Hawaii, legalizing personal cannabis possession and cultivation in Kentucky, and improving access to CBD products in Iowa.

NORML and Responsible Use

The enormous level of respect that NORML has earned in the cannabis campaigning and lobbying space comes in part because of their balanced stance on cannabis use. While advocating for legal adult use across several countries, the group also champions responsible use and harm reduction. The group’s published Principles of Responsible Use[2] include:

  • Adults only: Responsible use limits the consumption of cannabis to adults only and recognises the harm cannabis can cause to young people.
  • No driving: Responsible users do not operate motor vehicles or heavy machinery while under the influence of cannabis. While viewed by experts as safer than alcohol in these settings, cannabis can still cause impairment that can endanger others.
  • Set and setting: The concept of set and setting seeks to optimise the cannabis experience and limit use to ideal psychological and social circumstances.
  • Resist abuse: Excess cannabis use can impair health. This principle seeks to remind cannabis users to consume the herb in a way that does not stunt health, personal development, or achievement.
  • Respect the rights of others: This principle stresses the importance of respecting the wishes of others, and adhering to smoking protocols in both public and private places.
Norml structure

The Structure of NORML

Behind NORML’s formidable presence lies a well-defined organisational structure that serves as the key to its continued success. Discover the key branches of NORML below:

  • The NORML Foundation: As a sister organisation to NORML, The NORML Foundation[3] aims to educate the public on cannabis and marijuana policy while helping victims affected by current legislation. Founded as a nonprofit in 1997, the foundation works hard to sponsor public awareness campaigns and marijuana research.
  • NORML Legal Seminars: These social events are excellent networking opportunities for NORML members, while also offering Continued Legal Education credits to practising lawyers.
  • NORML Conferences: NORML holds an annual conference featuring policy updates, informative talks, and awards that celebrate notable activists, celebrities, and community organisers.

NORML’s Global Influence

The advocacy work of NORML has extended well past the borders of the United States. Now, chapters exist in a long list of countries that are working towards legislative change. Explore some of the key chapters below.

  • Canada

NORML Canada has become a trusted voice in the county’s cannabis community. The group takes a firm stance and believes nobody should be prosecuted for cannabis at any time and for any reason, and that all previous charges should be expunged. They’re also pushing to expand recreational cultivation to all provinces.

  • Europe

NORML chapters also function as nonprofit organisations in a host of European countries, including France, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Norway. Here, they are working to establish similar changes that United States chapters have achieved.

The Future of NORML’s Advocacy

Now you’re aware of just how much of an impact NORML has had on cannabis policy reform in the United States and beyond. The organisation has helped to push for decriminalisation in the past and continues to lobby the government at both the state and federal levels for increased freedom around cannabis use. On top of this, they continue to educate the public, using an evidence-based approach. Outside of the US, NORML has established chapters in many countries to drive legislative change across the world.

External Resources:
  1. //Take Action Centre -
  2. Principles of Responsible Cannabis Use - NORML
  3. The NORML Foundation
This content is for educational purposes only. The information provided is derived from research gathered from external sources.

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