NORML SHAKE-UP CONTINUES
New Board Takes Over: Will Changes Spell Rejuvenation or Ruin?
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws is undergoing radical change in the wake of the September 11 vote by the board. With the exception of two former members, an entirely new board has taken over the reins of NORML.
The new board includes several nationally recognized names. But many long-time organization members fear that grass-roots activism, NORML’s strong suit, will be severely compromised, rendering the organization a weak
sibling to the black-tie Drug Policy Foundation and leaving a gaping hole in the marijuana-law reform movement.
As previously reported (Nov. ’94 and Jan. ’95 HT), debate has escalated over the policies of the national office, leading to a schism in the national board. On one side were those board members who were willing to resign and appoint an interim board of Harvard marijuana expert Dr. Lester Grinspoon, outspoken City University of New York pharmacology professor Dr. John Morgan, and Ann Druyan, secretary of the Federation of American Scientists—who would form a “Dream Team” board. On the other side were those who thought the Dream Team should simply take seats on the thencurrent board as they came up for election. (Eight seats would have been up for election as of November ’94.)
The September 11 vote, conducted by conference call, was carried 8-6 by those willing to resign, and the interim team took over. As HIGH TIMES goes to press, the new board consists of Grinspoon, Morgan and Druyan; two former board members, exchairman Dan Viets and California NORML director Dale Gieringer—and several new faces. The new board members are:
• David Boaz—Executive vice-president of the Cato Institute, the right winglibertarian think tank in Washington;
• Barbara Ehrenreich—Respected author, prominent feminist and regular essayist with Time magazine;
• Richard Evans—The Massachusetts
attorney who in 1982 coauthored the proposed Cannabis Revenue and Taxation Act, detailing a postlegalization marijuana tax policy. More recently, he has been involved in reform of the local DARE antidrug-abuse program;
• Kary Mullis—Winner of a 1993 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his invention of the polymerase chain reaction;
• Lynn Zimmer—Sociology professor at Queens College who has done extensive drug-policy scholarship;
• Keith Stroup—The one old face in the new crowd; founder of NORML in 1971, director through 1978, and recently
executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Several additional names have been mentioned as expected to take seats on the board, but have not yet made commitments to serving. It is expected that NORML’s by-laws allowing for up to 17 board members will be amended to allow for additional membership so that specialists can come on board to perform in particular areas.
Richard Cowan, NORML national director, says the Dream Team is “accomplishing our
objective, which was to turn NORML into an organization that everyone would look up to and respect. A board of this stature will make people take the marijuana issue seriously.”
But despite the elation of many with the new board, concerns abound about the Dream Team’s commitment to grassroots activism, or even to the cause of marijuana legalization. Will they be willing to carry on the fight once they realize how entrenched the opposition is? Will they be names on a letterhead, or fighters against the War on Drugs? While few would question the commitment of Drs. Grinspoon and Morgan, the continued efforts of Lynn Zimmer, or the historic legacy of Keith Stroup, many feel that several of the new names are unproven in this particular fight.
CONTINUED ON PAGE 34
DESPITE THE ELATION OF MANY, CONCERNS ABOUND ABOUT THE "DREAM TEAM’S” COMMITMENT TO GRASSROOTS ACTIVISM, OR EVEN THE CAUSE OF MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION.
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 22
Questions loom for the future of NORML. As we go to press, several former board members are questioning the financial stability of the organization. Since he has taken over, Cowan has nearly eliminated NORML’s private debt, no mean feat for the underfunded group. But debt to the Internal Revenue Service has escalated, and the 1RS, which has been investigating NORML on and off for years, is currently reviewing its payrolltax payment records. Additionally, there is a threat that NORML’s nonprofit status will be pulled, either in exchange
for liquidating federal tax debt or because of NORML’s legal referral service, seen by many as a for-profit enterprise.
Also problematic is the allegation of at least two recently-resigned board members that at least two of those voting in favor of dissolving the board on September 11 were not paid members of NORML. If proven true, this could lead to a civil suit to void the vote.
Despite the problems facing the organization, Grinspoon, reached at his offices at Harvard University, said he is unqualifiedly behind Cowan and the current staff. “In the two years Dick [Cowan] has been with NORML, he’s done marvelous things for the organization. He’s basically put NORML back on the national map. I have nothing but praise for the work he’s done.”
NORML DECERTIFIES LONG-TIME CHAPTERS
NORML has also been rocked by the decertification of some of its oldest and most successful chapters. Among them were the Wisconsin chapter, headed by Ben Masel: Ohio NORML, run by Cliff Barrows: and Indiana NORML, under the directorship of David Zintel.
While there was much rumormongering that the decertifications were the result of personal problems with NORML chapter directors, the national office says the situation was simply one of getting local chapters into line both fiscally and organizationally—something Cowan sees as essential to strengthening the NORML activist network.
Paperwork was sent out well over a year ago, and repeated notices followed, but several chapters simply didn't get
around to doing it. This past summer, those chapters who hadn’t filed were decertified.
Masel, Wisconsin state director for seven years, admits the problem was his, not NORML’s. “We lost our secretary, and the paperwork fell into my hands, the least competent person to handle the task. I applied for and received several months’ extension, but logistical problems cropped up and I didn’t get it done. Then I received notice we were decertified.”
Masel, who organizes Weedstock and Madison Harvest Fest, both money-makers for NORML, is applying for recertification
COWAN: I THINK WE LL BE MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE IN ADVANCING THE CAUSE OF ACTIVISM THAN WE HAVE BEEN.’’
of his chapter and expects to be back in the NORML fold by the time this issue is on the stands. “Maybe we needed a kick in the butt,” he admits.
Barrows, another longtime state director, was also decertified. He has asked for—but not yet received—the necessary paperwork for recertification. “At the moment,” he says, “we’ve reorganized as Ohioans Helping to Educate More People—0 HEMP. Whether we’re NORML or not, we’re still counseling people who are busted, working to legalize cannabis. The name changes, but not the game.”
Asked if the decertification of these longtime chapters signaled a shift in NORML’s commitment to grass-roots activism, Cowan bristles. “I think we’ll be much more effective in advancing the cause of activism than we have been. We are absolutely committed to this. Those chapters that were decertified failed to do the most basic things necessary to organizing and running a NORML chapter. In some cases it was simply that they refused to fill out and return chapter forms. No one was decertified for violating the fine print.” &