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Articles - Cannabis, marijuana & hashisch
Written by Russell Castro   
Friday, 14 September 1990 00:00

The rise and fall of N0RML as a Professional Social Movement Organisation
A case study exploration through Collective Action Mapping
Russell A. Castro
Department of Sociology
University of Colorado
Boulder Co. USA

This paper was originally prepared for presentation at the 39th Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Social Problems Berkeley California August 6-8 1989. This revision was specially prepared and updated for inclusion in The International Journal on Drug Policy September 1990.

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As the modification of substance use control policy becomes an increasingly central focus in Western European nations and the United States, the importance of examining prior attempts to reform policy is accentuated. The activities of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) between the years 1971 and 1978 offers an example of one such effort. Organized by movement entrepreneur Keith Stroup, NORML represents the single most successful attempt in post-prohibition US history at altering policy parameters designed to control substances considered to be illicit. During this period, NORML was either directly or indirectly involved in policy modifications which occurred in at least eight states and several municipalities. Although presently in existence, NORML’s activities as a politically active and effective organization were significantly diminished in 1978 upon founder Stroup’s retirement. NORML has become politically reactivated of late, stepping up its political activities as a response to President Bush’s newly stated commitment to a ‘drug war’, which openly targets the casual user as the ‘enemy’ of American national security (NORML Interview: August 14, 1990). Nevertheless, an interview with NORML’s public relations director, John Dunlap, indicated that NORML’s contemporary media exposure has been comparatively limited:
‘When Bush gave his national address about the war on drugs, we were there across the street from the White House with a large group of demonstrators and materials. The national press people present intentionally ignored us. It was as though they’d decided in advance not to give us any coverage because we weren’t supporting the popular position" (NORML interview: August 14, 1990). NORML’s political work since 1978 could be considered unremarkable in relation to the Stroup years, occupying an obscure position, eclipsed by the activities and causes of other social movements, such as the women’s movement and the environmental movement. Thus, in order to streamline the task of examining NORML as a force for change in the movement to modify marijuana control policy, this analysis will be restricted to the aforementioned period (1971-78) during which NORML was under the impetus, direction, and control of founder Keith Stroup.
In order to facilitate the accomplishment of the complex task of examining the relationship between the marijuana reformation movement and NORML, I have incorporated the conceptual guidance scheme developed by Downton and Wehr (forthcoming) called ‘collective action mapping’ (CAM) (please see the Collective Action Map opposite). The map provides a systematic pathway by which the potentially formidable task of the exhaustive examination of the movement is transformed into a manageable process.
CAM finds its theoretical and analytical basis in the work of the major social movements theorists within the discipline of sociology (Zald and Ash 1966; Olson 1968; Gamson 1975; McCarthy and Zald 1977; Tilly 1978; Jenkins 1983; Garner and Zald 1985; Klandermans and Tarrow 1987). CAM allows NORML to be viewed as a professional social movement organisation (PSMO) through the American resource mobilization theory approach (McCarthy and Zald 1977), as well as its logical compliment, the European new social movements theory model (Klandermans and Tarrow 1987). The integration of these sociological social movement frameworks provides an approach which considers the combined effects of the macro-contextual influences with the micro-dynamics of the mobilization and activation of resources necessary to movement success.

Environmental sources of social strain: new social movements

The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time of rapid social transformation in both the United States and Western Europe. Technological advances and post-World War II ‘baby boom’ demographics, coupled with subcultural upheavals related to the Vietnam War, resulted in intensified social movement activity. New Social Movements theory proponents Klandermans and Tarrow (1987:29) argue: "It may be primarily the conditions of national politics and not factors internal to social movements that determine their careers". In outspoken objection to America s corporate political system and technocratic orientation, combined with its participation in war in Southeast Asia, widespread movements such as the student movement and the ‘hippie’ movement thrived. Social responses to the political and social circumstances of the period included the creation of many movements that currently remain in existence, such as the women’s movements and the environmental movement, as well as those that have faded, such as the student movement and the ‘counterculture’ movement. Since the organization we wish to examine, NORML, is a social movement organisation (SMO) that is a subset of the counterculture movement, the counterculture movement becomes the point of our discursive departure.
The counterculture movement in the United States was representative of a large number of factions of widely divergent philosophical and political orientations (Roszak 1968; Lipset 1969; Leventman 1982; Buckhout 1971). For this reason, the counterculture movement may be considered the parent movement from which many ‘daughter’ movements emerged (Roszak 1968; Leventman 1982). In spite of its eclectic composition, the counterculture movement was loosely bound through a common ideological orientation based on a shift away from materialist hegemony and toward libertariah individualism (Roszak 1968; Buckh DUt 1971). Exploration of the ‘se w through the use of psychedelics and n narijuana became increasingly prevalent among members of the counterculture as its ranks began to expand into the mainstream society (i.e., the white middleclass university population) (Adler and Adler 1978; Hochman 1972), reflecting the movement s quest for alternatives to ‘the establishment’.
Several of the social movement organisations that arose within the counterculture were concerned primarily with the issue of personal substance use. Among others were BLOSSOM (Basic Liberation of Smokers and Sympathizers of Marijuana, CAMP (Committee Against Marijuana Prohibition), CALM (Citizens’ Association to Legalize Marijuana, POT (Proposition of Today), SLAMs (Society for the Legalisation and Acceptance of Marijuana), MELO (Marijuana Education and Legalization Organisation), CMI (California Marijuana Initiative), COME Committee on Marijuana Education), Amorphia (a legal aid funding group), as well as NORML, the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (Anderson 1981). From the abundance of social movement organisation activity focused on the issue of marijuana liberalization or ‘normalization (Engelsman 1988; Korpf 1988), we may assess that within the larger counterculture movement there existed a large constituency which might be called the marijuana reformation movement.

Initial organisational development

By the nature of the issue that it pursued, the marijuana reformation movement faced greater difficulties than other similar movements in contemporary American social history. At least three problems inherent to the movement effectively stifled resource mobilization at the grassroots level. The first issue was that of legality. Supporters of the marijuana legalisation movement were to a large extent users of marijuana, or friends or relatives of users, whose open participation in movement activities would place them in danger of arrest. This ‘Catch 22’ situation was extremely harmful to the movement, since obviously those who would have been most compelled to participate were threatened legally into avoidance of such participation. Consequently, the ‘human-to-human’ grassroots processes of micromobilization (Downton et. al. forthcoming) were limited by the 3equestered contact necessary to protect [he subculture’s members from legal 3anctions. Marijuana smokers could not herald their own libertarian cause for fear of discrediting (Goffman 1963) both themselves and the movement by being exposed as smokers. Stigma associated with the use of marijuana crippled attempts at widespread integration and mobilization of the social movement at the grassroots level.
The second complicating issue which faced the marijuana reformation movement in the United States was the general public s repudiation of marijuana and marijuana use, regardless of its legal status. Marijuana, unlike alcohol, did not have a historical relationship with Puritan ethical values and did not offer a sense of continuity with Europe (Moore and Gerstein 1981; Castro 1988). In addition, early in the twentieth century the mainstream American press has erroneously associated the use of marijuana with violent behaviour as well as negroes and foreigners, often Latins who did not share the protestant Work Ethic (Castro 1988;7). Consequently, the marijuana legalisation movement seems to have run up against the sentiments of the larger public. According to Zald (1988:32), groups without resources or moral claims that appeal to a large segment of the population continue to be isolated from political action.
The third complicating issue faced by the movement was the product of the combination of the first two: fragmentation. The lack of thematic coherency within the movement, apparent in the above list of marijuana policy modification SMOs, was due partially to a lack of public acceptance and, in part, to the self-stigmatizing nature of participation in these organisations. Zald and Ash (1966) argue: SMOs exist in an environment with other organisations aimed at similar goals... (causing) an uneasy alliance but also creating the conditions for inter-organisational competition . However, most of the movement organisations that had arisen on the marijuana reformation issue were locally or regionally orientated and relatively small in size, all encountering to varying degrees the same sorts of difficulties associated with resource mobilization on both the funding and membership levels. Many of the SMOs that had been formed around the issue were headed by individuals with no political, legal, or organisational experience. In addition, many of the organisations were transitory, constructed for public or private influence in a single matter, destined to be dissolved when the matter was settled.
While many attempts at resource mobilization by the marijuana legalisation movement were comparatively unsuccessful, one professional social movement organisation eventually served to spearhead the movement, providing some unity and political expertise to the cause of the larger movement; NORML. In his book High in America (1981), Patrick Anderson of the New York Times recounts the history of NORML. Anderson’s work, and subsequent interviews with the staff of NORML by the author, present a historical framework to which the collective action mapping (CAM) model may be applied for analysis.
NORML was formed under the direction of ‘movement entrepreneur’ (McCarthy and Zald 1977) Keith Stroup in Washington, DC, in 1971. Stroup’s purposes were clear: to establish a national political organisation with a powerful lobby in Washington to support and bring legitimacy to the constituency of marijuana users and sympathizers who made up the marijuana reformation movement nationally. Stroup’s efforts to generate a movement organisation concerned with an issue such as marijuana use and control was not common within patterns of social movement emergence in the United States. As Garner and Zald (1985:139) posit, In the United States we find a multiplicity of movements, many of them concerned with ‘lifestyle’ issues, operating either outside the political system or acting as pressure groups within the major parties. Perhaps most importantly, Stroup was no outsider to the professional lobby circuit in Washington, having been employed as a lobbyist with the American Product Safety Commission and the American Pharmaceutical Association. Stroup's Washington experience and his background as an attorney provided him with organisational expertise unmatched by the heads of other SMOs within the movement, particularly with regard to the mobilization of economic and organisational resources. Stroup's activities as NORMLs director could be characterised as those of a classic ‘moral entrepreneur’ (Becker 1966), since through NORML he sought to modify extant rule structures in order to bring about what he believed would be a more morally amiable situation for the marijuana-using population of the United States.

Development of power potential: resource mobilization of NORML

Stroup s style of organisational management had been shaped by his position with the Product Safety Commission lobby, which provided him with a "sophisticated understanding of the political process" (Anderson 1981:41). In addition, Stroup’s political savvy and success as a lobbyist enabled him to mobilize political connections as a resource. This placed Stroup in a unique position among SMO leaders on this issue, enabling him to initiate institutional alliances within the existing structures. Useem and Zald (1982:154) argue for the significant role that established groups and institutions may play in the mobilization of social movements". Stroup’s mobilization of financial resources through institutional relationships would turn out to be crucial to the foundation and maintenance of NORML as a politically active PSMO.
Although fragmented and non-unified marijuana reform SMOs were engaged in numerous activities about the United States, Stroup initially either ignored, or was unaware of, their operations. His brainchild, NORML, was to be modelled on the successful activities of Ralph Nader, whose lobbying techniques had brought about slow but stable changes through legislative reform. In autumn 1970, Stroup began what was to be a close and lengthy relationship with former attorney general Ramsey Clark, who maintained an active law of fice in Washington. Clark provided Stroup with a small network of foundations through which NORML might mobilize funds to make the PMSO a reality. Clark also provided the resource of his insider’s wisdom: NORML should maintain a moderate position, being careful not to alienate any of its potential proponents (Anderson 1981). This was advice that some eight years later would go unheeded, resulting in the eventual disempowerment of NORML as a PSMO.
Of the foundations which Stroup contacted as a result of his meetings with Clark, none were to prove fruitful as funding sources: NORML might have been a good idea, but mainstream liberal organisations feared a political alliance with an organisation that proposed such a revolutionary policy approach. During this period, the offices of Ralph Nader put Stroup in touch with Margaret Standish, at that time staff director of another organisation interested in libertarian individualism: the Playboy Foundation. Shortly thereafter, Stroup met with Bob Gutwillig, one of the Playboy organisation’s senior executives. At this meeting, Stroup presented his ideas as well as a budget proposal, and Gutwillig’s reaction was positive. Gutwillig arranged for a personal meeting between Stroup and Hugh Hefner, Playboy’s founder and CEO, at which "Stroup submitted his proposed program which included a pamphlet explaining marijuana laws, a direct mail fundraising programs model legislation, a newsletter, and public service television spots" (Anderson 1981:44). Although Stroup had requested $20,000 for the first six months of NORML’s operations, a cautious Hefner agreed to provide an initial $5,000; "his commitment was to the issue, not to Stroup or NORML" (Ibid., p.45). In securing the initial connection to the Playboy Foundation, Stroup had mobilized for NORML three vital resources: finances, a degree of legitimacy, and the beginnings of a network for recruitment and support through advertising spots which Playboy agreed to contribute.
As a PSMO, NORML’s recruitment process was directed initially at high level, in-group, ‘establishment’ members. Stroup sought support through his persistent personal attempts to recruit prominent and influential individuals to join the NORML advisory board of directors. McCarthy and Zald (1977) refer to this as "conscience constituency" (p.1216), that is, a constituency of supporters who back the movement purely on the basis of principle, especially where the issue lies beyond the realm of relevance to their own experience. This could be considered roughly analogous to male participation in, and support of, the pro-choice abortion movement in the United States, in the most respects a women’s issue. In NORML’s case, Stroup assembled a group of supporters who did not stand to benefit personally from NORML’s success in policy modification, but rather felt compelled to participate because of their ideological positions (Ibid,. p.1222). One such conscience constituent recruited to NORML’s cause in March 1971 was Max Palevsky, one of George McGovern’s largest financial backers luring his 1972 presidential campaign. Palevsky provided essential economic resources in the form of a donation of >25,000 as well as subsequent repeat donations (Anderson 1981).
Stroup’s expertise as a movement entrepreneur was further demonstrated by his establishment of institutional alliances (McCarthy and Zald 1977; Tilly 1978) with pre-existing mainstream organisations. One such alliance was that between Stroup and Aryeh Neier, the national director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In exchange for his figurehead position on NORML’s advisory board, Neier agreed to provide NORML of fice spape in New York (Anderson 1981). In addition, Neier was to assist further in the resource mobilization process by putting Stroup in contact with state co-ordinators for NORML (Anderson 1981). this inter-organisational networking was to provide the structural framework which would allow NORML’s ground level recruitment efforts such a rapid rate of growth. The existence of a national network of local affiliates thus appeared to strengthen the legitimacy of NORML as representative of the goals of the larger movement. NORML’s conscience constituency was to expand rapidly as a result of Stroup’s painstaking administrative efforts. Stroup’s mobilization strategy framed the construction of a comprehensive movement network which included financiers, scientists, bureaucratic officers, media officials, and a grassroots constituency of dues-paying members. Stroup realized that passive strategies were ineffective in producing change, and his endeavour was to assemble a multi-front offensive using the media, science, and the sheer number of adherents (McCarthy and Zald 1977:1221; Inciardi 1984) in concert to achieve the PSMO’s desired objectives: the decriminalisation and subsequent further humane modification or marijuana control policy. Stroup’s ability to achieve these objectives was exhibited by the seemingly unlikely collection of individuals which he recruited to his advisory board. Participating were John Finlator, former deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous drugs (a United States federal enforcement and regulatory agency); Ramsey Clark, former attorney general of the United States (the chief law officer and legal council to the national administration); Harvard Professors Norman Zinberg and Lester Grinspoon; Aryeh Neier, national director of the American Civil Liberties Union (the ACLU);; philanthropist Stewart Mott heir to the General Motors fortune; and magazine magnates Hugh Hefner and Tom Forcade (NORML interview: August 14,1990; Anderson 1981) The dues-paying membership of NORML was to grow to a population of over 10,000 in its first year (NORML interview: October 21, 1989).
Additional support for NORML was provided by the Drug Abuse Council in Washington, DC, an affiliated research agency which was to make significant financial contributions to the organisation between 1971 and 1978 (NORML interview October 21, 1989, Anderson 1981).

Organisation and methods

Not unlike other lobbying organisations, the active staff of NORML was small. None the less, action strategies were clear:
1. mobilize a wide range of financial, political, and cultural resources;
2. utilize links to the media to reach the largest number of adherents, thus expanding the actual and ‘conscience’ constituencies;
3. provide direction, support, and aid to other SMO’s involved in the issue; and
4. effect policy alteration through the provision of expert witnesses, lobbying efforts, and direct personal connections to the politically affluent. NORML was successful on each of these levels to varying degrees, at least for a time.

As NORML’s director, Stroup assembled a powerful influential conscience constituency on his ‘advisory board’. Through their provision of funds as well as scientific, political, and technical expertise, NORML was able to mobilize on a wider basis through direct media connections. One such media link was to High Times magazine. Tom Forcade’s High Times, modelled on the design of Playboy, was a publication which specifically targeted the drug using sub-culture. Within months of its first issue Forcade offered Stroup the publication of one free NORML advertisement each month. This media alliance seemed ideal, as the readership of High Times was certain to include the massive population of marijuana-using adherents from which NORML might draw its grassroots constituency. In addition to the advertising arrangement NORML had worked out with High Times, Playboy magazine also offered a contribution of two ads per year.
As a result of the influence of those ads, NORML was to generate just over $100,000 during its first year in the form of personal ($10) memberships, and some larger independent donations mostly from the readership of Playboy (Anderson 1981; NORML archive materials). Since Playboy’s average reader was of a higher than average income, its role in the establishment of a non-using base of support for the movement should not be overlooked. However, Stroup was criticized for his alliance with High Times because of its pro-drug stance. Despite this possible liability, Stroup did not want to overlook this unique opportunity to reach so many adherents in a direct way, not without consideration of the fact that High Times ads were bringing in over $50,000 a year. In addition, these media relationships were perceived by Stroup as essential to the dissemination of movement goals and ideology.
The typical method, or action strategy’ employed by NORML to influence changes in state laws was interventionist lobbying in which Stroup, accompanied by one or more expert witnesses and the local NORML co-ordinator, would attend to four basic target groups: the legislature, the media, NORML supporters, and prisoners in the state prison (Anderson 1981:1103. Stroup arranged meetings with key legislators who were sponsoring or directly involved in reform legislation (Ibid.) Stroup provided experts such as professors Dorothy Whipple from Georgetown and Lester Grinspoon from Harvard to serve as professional authorities advancing a marijuana reform position before state legislatures (Ibid.). Stroup strategically arranged radio, newspaper and television interviews in each of the states that he would visit to coincide with legislative and public debates on the marijuana issue (NORML archive materials; Anderson 1981; NORML interview August 14, 1990). His interactions with the press were usually positive in that they were effective in raising public awareness. Stroup was generally well accepted by both media and public, being both articulate and statistically informed (Anderson 1981:110) . Stroup’s ability effectively to sway public opinion on the issue was shrewd. In 1973 when in Texas, Stroup brought the press along when he visited inmates in Texas serving life sentences for marijuana sale and possession (Ibid.). This served the two-fold purposes of demonstrating the atrocities inflicted by the marijuana laws in place at that time, and bringing hope k the forlorn inmates. Stroup thus demonstrated an ability to integrate media resources and events in the mobilization of public affectivity as a resource in the advancement of the movement’s objectives.

Political alliances

As a splinter group of the Ford Foundation, the Drug Abuse Council (DAC) was established in 1971 as "a specialised think tank, an independent voice evaluating drug programs and recommending public policy" (Anderson 1981:10(;107). On the recommendation of Ralph Nader Stroup was called in by the DAC for his expertise on marijuana issues in December 1971. His encounter with foundation executive Tom Bryant resulted in a long and fruitful alliance between NORML and the DAC. By mid 19733, Bryant had become an activ NORML advisory board member lending "the Ford Foundation’s prestige and credibility" of the organisation (Ibid 108.). Realijing the need to separate overhead expenses from those dedicated to political activity Stroup set up a non-political, primarily financial, entity called "the Center for the Study of Non-Medical Drug Use" (NORML archive materials). This institution was used to handle the funding involved with lawsuits, publishing costs, and other non-political activities essential to the parent SMO. As a result of their alliance with NORML, the DAC instituted a regular disbursement of grants to the Center in amounts as high as $30,000 and above per year (NORML archives). The relationship between NORML and DAC might accurately have been termed symbiotic since NORML gained increased access to resources in the form of personal connections to policy decision makers and funding, while DAC gained an additional source of political representation through NORML’s lobbying activities.
Another important political alliance was NORML’s relationship with the Carter presidential administration. Peter Bourne, formerly the assistant director o Richard Nixon’s Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention, had become affiliated with the Drug Abuse Council, and had thus evolved a relationship with Stroup (Anderson 1981). Upon Carter’s election to the presidency, he appointed Bourne as his primary drug policy advisor. After less than a year in the White House Carter had publicly called for the decriminalization of marijuana. Bourne sustained close contact with NORML, and the organization’s connection to him was an invaluable resource regarding direct input to the national presidential administration. What had not yet become fully clear was the ambiguous nature of such institutional and ‘inside’ alliances, nor their potential to produce unintended consequences regarding the objectives of the larger movement.


If NORML was to have longevity as a PSMO, a system of common beliefs had to be developed in order to empower it and maintain its identify. According to Klandermans and Tarrow (1987), new social movements arise in the light of fresh ideologies related to uniquely current grievances and their constituencies, exactly as was the case with NORML. The formation and continuation of a social movement or SMO is an ongoing process, as is the development and evolution of that movement’s ideology. As much as the marijuana reform movement grew out of a counter culture libertarian individualis ideology (Flacks 1971; Roszak 1968; Leventman 1982; Geralch and Hine 1970), in order to maintain its coherency it required a focused ideological orientation. Thus, ideological consensus must be considered a resource which need be mobilized (Downton forthcoming). On this level, NORML’s success was only nominal. Although institutionally allied with the ACLU, NORML failed to broaden its involvement in libertarian concerns apar from those on the marijuana issue. In addition, in spite of the unifying efforts on NORML’s part, there was a failure to completely "mobilize consensus" (Klandermans 1988: 173-196) within the movement. This may have been a result of the divergence of sentiment within the population of adherents, for even within NORML’s constituency there was not agreement as to which particular legal stance towards marijuana should be taken (NORML Interview: August 14, 1990).
Due to its negative impact on the effectiveness of the movement, it is important to illuminate the ‘free rider’ (Olson 1965; Gamson 1975) problem faced by NORML Sociologist Mancur Olson (1965) describes ‘free riders’ as individuals who adhere to the goals and purposes of a movement, but who fail to actively support or participate in activities to bring about its success. This movement dynamic is a result of the distinction made by individuals between selective (or personal) interests and collective interests. Due to the fear of arrest or investigation, most marijuana users’ selective interests in immediate self-protection outweighed their collective interests in changing marijuana control policy.
During the 1970’s the estimated number of marijuana users increased to over 10 million, and by the close of the decade that figure had surpassed 30 million (Inciardi and Chambers 1974; Inciardi 1984; NORML interview, August 14, 1990). Notwithstanding, the membership of NORML never exceeded 20,000 ‘dues-paying’ constituents (NORML interview, October 21, 1989). Hence, approximately one to two per 1000 marijuana users (reformation adherents) were making even a minimum contribution to the SMO. Yet, the activities of NORML were intended to benefit these adherents just as much, and in some cases more, than its active constituents.
It is not difficult to imagine the disillusion of both passive and active supporters of NORML resultant from the free-rider problem. Keith Stroup, when affronted by airport onlookers asking, "When will marijuana be legalized?" replied, "When you get off your asses and help, that’s when!" (Anderson 1981: 320). Comparatively speaking however, NORML’s Ifree rider’ problem might not have been worse than those of other movements (e.g., the US anti-nuclear movement’s constituents reflect only a tiny fraction of its adherents lDaubert 1985]), even though its causes would seem to have been, logically, more compelling to its potential participants.
NORML’s failure to institute a firm ideological base may have contributed to the infra-structural weaknesses which lef it vulnerable to the negative events and counter movements it was eventually to face. Because the organization’s focus was on the legitimation of a socially stigmatized substance, rather than on broader related topics such as basic constitutional rights issues, it was more vulnerable to the criticism of ‘moral entrepreneurs’ (8ecker 1966) of an opposite bent. As a single-issue PSMO, NORML’s ideological foundations were both narrow and vulnerable. With only a restricted ideological focus of a highly controversial nature, perhaps the greater .mystery should be the length of time tha NORML remained active as an effective political force. This ideological inadequacy was to be compounded by the evolving dispositions of the baby boom cohort (who made up the counter culture movement’s ranks) towards political life, the economic system, and the use of drugs. In 1975, 46% of ‘babyboomers’ sampled considered themselves to be liberal; by 1985 that figure had dropped to 29% (General Social Survey, National Opinion Researcl Center 1986). As the 1970’s progressed, the US counterculture began quietly to blend into the larger consumer culture, and NORML, a PSMO with only drug reformation as its objective, began to seem increasingly outdated and out of place.

Environmental controls: opponents and events

In 1977 Sue Rusche, an outraged parent from Atlanta, successfiully engineered a nationwide campaign to unite parents against drug use and tolerance of that behaviour. (Leuzzi 1989; Anderson 1981: 301-306). Rusche focused her attack on NORML, claiming that the growth of the paraphernalia and smuggling industries "were in effect a conspiracy wherein NORML had become a lobby" for those industries (Ibid.). Citing the economic relationship between NORML and High Times magazine which allegedly advocated illicit drug use, Rusche declared, ‘We call upon Congress to conduct a full-scale criminal investigation of the drug-paraphernalia industry, High Times, and NORML" (Ibid.). Rusche established and coordinated Families in Action (FIA), one of the prominent organizational manifestations of the countermovement opposing marijuana reformation efforts.
This national countermovement had at least one major advantage over the reform movement which it sought to overcome: the widespread involvement of parents as the essential grassroots element without which no political movement can succeed (Cameron 1966). FIA spawned a great multiplicity of local community action group involvement on the issue, and by 1980 the new movement had gained considerable political power. FIA had succeeded where NORML had failed: in corralling and harnessing the collective efforts and momentum of the large number of issue-specific SMOs. The increasing strength of the countermovement coupled with the changing political climate and certain key events soon brought NORML to a state of severely reduced effectiveness.
The disruptive event which may have marked the change in momentum for NORML as a PSMO was the annual NORML party in Washington in December 1977. Although the story did not break in the press until mid-1978, the news of what occurred at the NORML Christmas party seriously diminished the legitimacy and credibility which NORML had amassed during the previous six years (Anderson 1981: 22-24). At the NORML party both Peter Bourne, Carter’s advisor on drug policy, and Stroup, the director of NORML openly ingested cocaine in the presence of several news reporters. Mutual respect kept the story out of print until months later when Bourne was implicated in another drug scandal involving the illegal disbursement of a prescription for methaqualone. Bourne lost his position at the White House causing shame to the Carter administration. Since Bourne’s illegal activities at the NORML party became fodder for the public domain, NORML was linked symbolically to the larger drug problem confirming, for many, the assertions put forth by FIA and losing much of its legitimacy as a marijuana reform lobby. This event served to cause a clouding of the distinctions which NORML had been trying to establish publicly between the use of marijuana and other illicit substances. Before the passing of 1978, Stroup was to resign as the co-ordinator of NORML, and its role thereafter as a PSMO was negligible. "As the eighties began NORML, demoralized and discredited by Stroup’s role in the Bourne affair, was struggling to stay afloat ... (but) both the political and judicial tides were running against promarijuana activities." (Anderson 1981:305).

Targets for change: impacts and reactions

When assessing the success of a NORML as a PSMO, the primary focus must be on ‘outcomes’ (Gamson 1975). Movement theorist William Gamson (1975) discusses two separate areas in which success may be achieved and, therefore, the levels of which may be determined. The first measure of success is whether the movement or SMO accomplishes its short-term or immediate objectives, in this case social change through legal reform (Handler 1978). Gamson’s second crucial measure of success is whether or not the movement or SMO took the necessary measures to assure the continued existence of the organization. Using Gamson’s (1975:29) table of resolved challenges as a guide, NORML’s outcome must be labelled ‘pre-emption’. Pre-emption indicates that while successful in bringing about new advantages for beneficiary adherents, the SMO gained little if any acceptance among the broader public. This was, indeed, the case with NORML.
NORML was instrumental in many of the policy changes which occurred in the United States between 1973 and 1978 regarding the status of marijuana sanctions. Handler (1978:39) argues that "social reform groups rarely achieve success in isolation from other events, or by themselves"; thus, NORML’s achievements, in spite of other factors which cannot easily be controlled, can be considered great. Laws decriminalizing the possession of marijuana were passed first in Oregon in 1973 and later in Alaska, Texas, California, Colorado, Maine, and Ohio. Sanctions against marijuana offenders in these states were transformed from penalties as serious as life imprisonment (in Texas) to civil sanctions which ranged from a simple citation with a small fine to arrest and release for a minimal bond. On this level NORML’s activities had brought about ‘new advantages’ (Gamson 1975) for it adherents, but the importance of those advantages was debatable. Many supporters of the marijuana reform movement would have considered reductions in penalties an inadequate modification of policy, insisting instead upon complete legalization (Hochman 1972; Geis 1979; McGlothlin 1970; Tow 1970). Discrepancies between desired levels of change achieved aside however there could be no question that the legal situation had been improved tremendously for marijuana users.
In spite of its measurable success with regard to its short-term goals, NORML failed to institutionalize itself as a permanent lobby serving the continuing interest of its constituents and beneficiaries. Gamson (1975), then, would argue that NORML’s relationship with its antagonists had not significantly changed during its duration as a PSMC thus failing to assure its continued existence. But as Handler (1978:36) aptly states: "In evaluating activities of a social reform group it is unrealistic to expect complete ‘victories’ in political efforts." Consequently, NORML’s failure to institute itself permanently on the political scene should not be used as a final measure of success, at least not without regard for its apparent political impact during the examined period.
Analysis of the marijuana movement and NORML through collective action mapping illuminates how the evolution the relationship between a PSMO, public sentiment, and various information and resource venues can first give rise to an then later, contribute to the demise of a social movement. New social movement theory offers explanation as to the movement’s origins and ascension, whilst rresource mobilization theory demonstrates how the objectives of the broader movement came to be identified with the activities of NORML, having assumed a leadership role in the mobilization of movement resources. While the new social movements theory perspective clarifies the difficulties which occur as a result of the lack of a coherent ideological foundation for the movement resource mobilization theory demonstrates the associated failure of the movement to mobilize effectively on the grass-roots level and to gain broad public acceptance. Neither new social movements theory nor resource mobilization theory alone can adequately explain the marijuana reformation movement in its entirety, yet the integrated collective action mapping model allows a dialectical relationship between these otherwise divergent perspectives. Only through such theoretically fused approach can comprehensive analyses and comparisons of unrelated social movement activities be achieved with accuracy.
Examination of NORML through collective action mapping systematizes and simplifies what would otherwise be complex and difficult task. By first examining environmental sources of social strain out of which new movements arise, CAM gives a historical contextual location to NORML within the sociopolitical realm. Illuminating the organizational developmental phase of NORML, an awareness of the association of prominent and influential figures with the PSMO, a$ well as its initial strategies is achieved. (AM then employs resource mobilization theory in its analysis of NORML’s development of its power potential, its capacity to effect social change. Action strategies, leadership factors, institutional alliances and financial resources are seen as essential to the development of the PSMO’s power potential. Finally, CAM considers the interaction of movement-related, and other socio-environmental events and their effects upon the movement. Such environmental control factors include public opinion, counter movements and, in this case, the legal status associated with the issue upon which the movement was centered.

Conclusions and remarks

In the final analysis, NORML did achieve a high degree of success in some areas, ‘while not fully achieving its goals in others. It is arguable that NORML could not achieve and sustain grassroots support of meaningful impact, which was likely rooted in the precarious relationship between selective and collective incentives for potential movement supporters. In keeping with Olson’s free rider problem, selective incentives for marijuana reform supporters to maintain their anonymity seems to have greatly outweighed collective incentives to participate in the movement. Even of those who did participate, active, supportive community actions were comparatively limited, probably due to the self-discrediting nature of publicly supporting such a controversial position. Consequently, we may gather that support for NORML on the grassroots level was largely ‘passive’, consisting primarily of dues and (silent) moral support.
The success of the movement in establishing itself permanently and legitimately was negatively impacted by the lack of essential grassroots support activity, perhaps related to negative expectations for success among adherents (Klandermans 1987). Organisationally, NORML was successful in the mobilization of resources. Incorporating the aid of influential individuals and exploiting their connections to established organizations, NORML built effective momentum in the movement to reform marijuana laws. Through the integration of tactical and financial resources by way of Stroup’s expertise as a movement entrepreneur, NORML was able to effect some change in legislative and public positions towards the control of the substance. Stroup’s abilities to mobilize, organize, and integrate resources brought NORML temporary legitimacy and enabled it to impact opinions towards the larger legal structure of the nation. However, environmental/structural conditions, related both to controversial events such as the Bourne affair, counter movements such as Families in Action, and the changing attitudinal climate in political and public spheres, brought an eventual disruption of the image of NORML as a legitimate social movement organization.
NORML was (and to a lesser extent still is) an instance of a professional social movement organization in the truest sense. Clearly oriented towards lobbying, it lacked many of the ideologically cohesive components typically associated with social movement activities. NORML’s director Keith Stroup’s excessive involvement in almost every detail of NORML’s functioning made he alone privy to the various intersecting levels of information and personal contact necessary for the organization’s continuing co-ordination as a politically effective entity. Consequently, upon Stroup’s resignation, NORML’s role as a social movement organization shifted noticeably. NORML’s archive materials in Washington, DC, demonstrate a severe organizational gap which emerged in the five year period immediately following Stroup’s resignation (NORML interview, August 14,1990).NORML’s subsequent deterioration on the bureaucratic level was attributable to its failure clearly to delineate, internally differentiate, and designate specific organizational roles and objectives (Weber 1980. t26-250).
Stroup might accurately be characterized as a charismatic (Ibid.) movement entrepreneur who failed to institutionalize the momentum resultant from his unique co-ordinative talents into a more permanent organizational form. A lasting social movement is not of one man made. Since NORML’s primary focus was on its lobby efforts, the size of the organization, in terms of staff positions, volunteers, and appointees, never expanded beyond a small home office staff in Washington, DC, and a small regional directorship nationally (usually one or two persons in a state’s major metropolitan area to make public and local political contact but, more importantly, to monitor legislative activity on marijuana policy modification issues; NORML interview, August 14, 1990). Thus NORML’s orientation as a professional social movement organization inhibited the broad societal acceptance of the marijuana reformation movement, if for no other reason than its failure to offer a salient, accessible and active grassroots level organizational structure to advance movement causes.
NORML’s action strategy consisted almost wholly of a series of responses to legislative decisions or individual cases which had been called to the organization’s attention. Although NORML’s method of response was thorough, calculated and effective, it basically failed to take an organizational initiative for the marijuana reformation movement itself. Whilst proactive movement organizations are directed by an ideological unity enabling them to execute positions based on shared meanings and beliefs, reactive movement organizations are directed by external events and, therefore, lack a similar level of ideological cohesion. This is not to imply that ideological issues were not at the heart of NORML’s cause. Instead, it is to make clear that NORML’s organizational motivations were more typically ideologically directed responses to ‘events’, rather than shared ideological initiatives.
It may be concluded that whether a movement is reactive, proactive, or some combination thereof, determines to a large degree its vulnerability to external socio-environmental events and circumstances. Since NORML was principally a reactive organization, it was excessively vulnerable to its environmental context. Conversely, Families in Action, one of many such anti-drug parents’ movement organizations, was a proactive SMO based on an ideological unity, with well-defined initiatives. Given consideration for the changing social and political climate in the United States in the late 1970s, shifts in popular culture towards increased awareness of health issues, the multitude of negative events directly or indirectly related to NORML, and the competition between the proactive and reactive orientations of FIA and NORML respectively, NORML’s failure permanently to institutionalize itself as an effective political entity should not be surprising.


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