Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The NORML Communications Campaign, pt. 1

Author's Note: This paper was originally written in 1991 as a undergraduate student at the University of Georgia for my Speech Communications major. - MR

The Communications Campaign

of the

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws


as a


In 1919 the United States ratified Amendment XVIII, prohibiting the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol. This action had tremendous implications for American society during the 1920’s and beyond by greatly increasing the influential power of several new social communities.

One of these social communities was primarily responsible for the push to ratify Amendment XVIII. This group sought to have their moral views legitimized through legislation and launched a massive lobbying effort in support of the amendment. This community was headed primarily by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, who organized expressly for the purpose of lobbying for federal legislation against alcohol.
Another social community that gained considerable social influence during the prohibition of the 1920’s was organized crime. This social class, whose profits until prohibition had been tied to illegal activities like prostitution and gambling, were able to add the manufacture, sale, and distribution of alcohol to their sources of income. Since organized crime held a monopoly on the alcohol industry, they were able to generate huge profits, and in turn, they were able to expand their economic and social influence to other “legitimate” areas of society.

A third segment of society who saw tremendous growth after the passage of the 18th Amendment was the law enforcement community. The 1920’s included unprecedented expansion of federal, state, and local enforcement agencies for the purpose of combating the massive increase in criminal activity that was created by the prohibition of alcohol.

After a relatively few short years, the social costs of Amendment XVIII were judged to far exceed its benefits. So, in 1933, Amendment XXI was ratified, repealing Amendment XVIII and the prohibition of alcohol, effectively nullifying the influence of the social communities that it had created. The moral voice behind prohibition had been silenced and the key ingredient to the greatly expanded operations of law enforcement and organized crime had been removed. But rather than relinquishing their newly gained power, these players in prohibition became actively involved in creating a new social situation that would preserve the social order of morality, law, and criminal activity that had been cemented into the national psyche by prohibition.

The situation that ultimately developed to meet the infrastructure needs crated prohibition is chronicled in a publication entitled “Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs for the year ending Dec. 31, 1936” published by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Bureau of Narcotics. This edition of the Treasury Department’s annual report contained a considerably larger section on illegal trafficking in cannabis/hemp than did any edition published prior to the repeal of the 18th Amendment. The report states that the additional attention given to cannabis/hemp traffic in the 1936 edition is attributed to:

The rapid development during the past several years, particularly during 1935 & 1936 of a widespread traffic in cannabis, or marihuana (sic), as it is more commonly known in he United States, is regarded with much concern by the Bureau of Narcotics. Ten years ago there was little traffic in this drug except in parts of the Southwest. The weed now grows wild in almost every State in the Union, is easily obtainable, and has come into wide abuse. The situation is especially fraught with danger because the abuse of this drug is being carried as a new habit to groups which have not been heretofore contaminated by drug addiction.1

Thus, by the mid 1930’s, right on the heels of the abolition of prohibition, a new movement was underway to replace alcohol with cannabis/hemp as “the new prohibition.”2

The best indication of just who was involved with this new movement is contained in the same 1936 Treasury Department publication and appears under the subtitle “Education Work:”

The Bureau is particularly appreciative of the excellent work done by the General Federation of Women’s Club$ the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, and the National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, in informing the public regarding marijuana, and the dangers attending the illicit use of narcotic drugs.

Over 100 addresses were delivered, on request, by various officials of the Bureau to organizations such as the various medical associations, branches of the Pharmaceutical Association, the National Association of Retail Druggists, the American Drug Manufacturers Association, various police departments and law enforcement associations, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the American Legion, various churches and hospitals, the Institute of Government, Kiwanis, Rotary, and other clubs, colleges, colleges of pharmacy and science, faculty clubs, parent—teachers associations, and high schools, American Association of University Women, the National Police Academy, Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, and other interested

Two special representatives of the Bureau have been engaged in explaining to various legislators throughout the country the workings and purpose of the uniform State narcotic act and reasons for its passage, and at the same time disseminating requested information to combat drug addiction.

This intensive effort by the Bureau of Narcotics to fight the so-called “dangers” of cannabis/hemp addiction led to the passage of “internal—revenue law approved June 22, 1936, an import tax of 2 cents per pound, effective Aug. 21, 1936, was imposed upon the importation of (cannabis/hemp) seeds, and the importations began immediately to show a marked decrease.” In fact, by 1937 there were no further importations of hempseed.4 This tax effectively blocked the importation of cannabis/hemp and by 1937 the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act was passed containing the first federal legislation prohibiting cannabis/hemp.5

The Bureau of Narcotics was the primary source of information concerning the use of cannabis/hemp and its effects, and this played an important role in the initiation of the smear and fear campaign against cannabis/hemp that started during the Reefer Madness (1936, Public Domain) era and continues today.6 Not only was the Treasury Department interested in arresting cannabis/hemp production, but there were many other powerful individuals and groups interested in suppressing the economic potential of cannabis/hemp as well. This represents the other side of the history of cannabis/hemp prohibition.

In 1938, Popular Mechanics published an article about some new agricultural technology that would have made the hemp plant much cheaper to produce than any of the agricultural crops like cotton and timber. The article pointed out that:

Hemp is the standard fiber of the world. It has great tensile strength and durability. It is used to produce more than 5,000 textile products, ranging from rope to fine laces, and woody “hurds” remaining after the fiber has been removed contain more than 77% cellulose, and can be used to produce more than 25,000 pr9ducts ranging from dynamite to cellophane. A few of the other 25,000 products include methanol, paper, mechanical and edible oils and many, many more8 (see Appendix E, Doc. 17. p.l.). The new technology behind modern hemp production that would make it possible for hemp to out-perform all other agriculture, timber, synthetic, and petroleum production was known by the Treasury Department in 1936:

The fiber producing type of Cannabis Sativa was grown on about 1,417 hectares (sic) in 1936 in the States of Illinois, Kentucky, and Wisconsin. It is understood that the crop grown in Illinois and Wisconsin was cultivated for fiber and for experimentation in paper production and in plastics, while the crop produced in Kentucky was cultivated for its seed.9

It was at this time that private industry entered the cannabis/hemp prohibition arena. One company in particular has been noted as being especially involved in the campaign against cannabis/hemp. In 1935, the DuPont company invented “Nylon,” patented and marketed in 1938, which was in direct competition with the textile industry, and more specifically, hemp. Before the invention of the cotton gin in the 1820’s, hemp was the number one fiber product in America. It remained second behind only cotton until it was replaced in the late 1930’s by DuPont’s new synthetic invention. In a February 1991 article, Satyagraha reported that in the mid-1930’s the DuPont company also patented a sulfuric acid process for milling wood pulp into paper. Cannabis/hemp fiber does not require this process for paper production and therefore posed a substantial threat to the economic stability of DuPont’s sulfuric acid process. Furthermore, the DuPont company was in direct competition with paint and varnish manufacturers, like Sherwin Williams, who used hemp oil in their products.10 Clearly, the DuPont company, as well as many other fiber, paper, lumber, synthetic, and petroleum companies would all receive significant competition from cannabis/hemp if the plant were allowed to compete with their products in an open market. 11

This early period of the prohibition of cannabis/hemp marked the beginning of a coordinated effort between the government and private industry to intentionally overstate the dangers of cannabis/hemp use in order to keep the plant from reaching the market in any of its various forms.12 The campaign that was launched during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s can be characterized as the “Reefer Madness smear and fear” period, where marijuana users were depicted as crazed lunatics driven to acts of violence, sexual perversity, and even death by a mere taste of the “killer weed.” The Treasury Department propagated these gross inaccuracies about the effects of cannabis/hemp during their campaign of 1936 with such blatant misrepresentations of facts as these:

The principal effect of the drug (cannabis) is upon the mind which seems to loose the power of directing and controlling thought. Its continued use produces pronounced mental deterioration in many cases. Its more immediate effect apparently is to remove the normal inhibitions of the individual and release any antisocial tendencies which may be present. Those who indulge in its habitual use eventually develop delirious rage after its administration, during which time they are, temporarily, at least, irresponsible and prone to commit violent crimes.13


The coordinated effort between government agencies and private industry designed to foster negative images of the cannabis/hemp plant and its users that began in the mid-1930’s still exists today. Not only does this effort continue to deliver its not altogether-truthful messages, but it has developed into one of the largest advertisers in the history of the United States. The resulting entity is now known as the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (DFA). DFA is a 2500 member “coalition of individuals and organizations representing the advertising, production, and communication industries” that “works to evoke a social revulsion to what the group views as current public acceptance and complacency toward illegal drugs”14 (see Appendix D, Doc.1, p.2). Many of the members of DFA are the same groups and companies who were involved in originating the laws against cannabis/hemp. Although a complete membership list is unavailable at this time, the following representative list shows the similarities:

Phillip Morris Company (tobacco, Miller brewing)

RJR Nabisco (tobacco, foodstuffs)

DuPont (synthetics, plastics)

Monsanto (chemicals, fertilizer)

pharmaceutical companies, forestry industry, advertising agencies, media conglomerates, etc.15
DFA is a private foundation and its advertising campaign is conducted entirely on a pro bono basis. This means that all of the work done for DFA is donated. All of the advertising time, space and production is received, pro bono, from various institutions around the country, like the Yellow Pages, who in 1990 donated $62 million in advertising space16 (see Appendix D, Doc. 5) and Gannet Transit, the New York subsidiary of the Gannet conglomerate, who donated $1 million in bus stop advertising space17(See Appendix D, Doc.6). These companies and other production corporations as well as many major newspapers and television stations across the country take the cost of their donations to DFA and write them off as a tax deductible donation to a non—profit organization.18 This means that U.S. taxpayers are funding a private corporate media blitzkrieg against drugs that is quickly approaching the $1 billion mark. According to an article in Forbes magazine, about $1 million of donated anti-drug advertising goes out to the public every day, and the DFA, if considered as a brand or product, receives about “five time as much ad support as Coca—Cola”19 (see Appendix D, Doc. 2, p.1).

The DFA continues to perpetuate the myths surrounding the use of cannabis/hemp, and resorts to advertisements that are either altogether false (see Appendix A, Doc. 2, p.4) or at the very least greatly exaggerated21 in attempting to deliver its message (See Appendix D, Doc. 8). The DFA is today’s representative of the opposition that cannabis/hemp law reform organizations have traditionally faced in delivering their message.



During the mid-1960's, political opposition to the policies of the Johnson administration increased dramatically. The term “new left” was coined to describe the growing dissatisfaction with the policies of the day. The “new left” spawned a plethora of public interest and political opposition groups like the Students for a Democratic Society, the Black Panthers, and many others. Among the new groups formed at this time were several organizations advocating the reform of the criminal status of cannabis/hemp. Two of the earliest known groups were Legalize Marijuana (LEMAR), and AMORPHIA.22 These groups represented the first organized opposition to the prohibition of cannabis/hemp and set the stage for many other similar groups to follow (See Appendix F, Doc. 1).

Among the many groups that did follow, one has remained active and intact for over twenty years (Now…39 Years!).

In 1970, an attorney named Keith Stroup founded the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Early on, funding for this group came primarily from the Playboy Foundation, and Playboy magazine donated both advertising and news coverage to the fledgling organization. In early 1972, when scientific research revealed evidence of the potential medical uses of cannabis/hemp, NORML sued the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs to reclassify the drug from a Schedule I substance to a Schedule II substance23 (see Appendix C, Doc. 4).

During the early 1970’s, there was a flurry of activity concerning cannabis/hemp law reform. The Carter administration

supported a plan for decriminalization, and several Federal and State committees agreed with NORML s position.24 In 1972, the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, formed by the Nixon administration “unanimously recommended that consumption related offenses involving marijuana be decriminalized” and this report "won significant and immediate endorsement from The National Council of Churches, The National Education Association, The American Public Health Association and The American Bar Association”25 (see Appendix E, Doc. 11). As a result of this commission’s recommendation several states followed their advice and decriminalized marijuana.

In May 1975, the Juvenile Delinquency Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee chairman James O. Eastland (R-Mississippi) endorsed the Oregon model of decriminalization that had been adopted after the 1972 report. This event sparked further legislative interest, and on Jan. 30, 1978, the U.S. Senate passed the “Criminal Code Reform Act of 1977, S. 1437, 95th Cong. (1977)” that included a modified version of the Oregon model, but the bill did not make it out of the House of Representatives.26

This expert testimony and legislative approval along with White House approval served to make NORML a legitimate and credible source concerning the issues surrounding the prohibition of cannabis/hemp. However, NORML’s standing as a credible source was short—lived when in 1978, NORML’s founder and most influential member Keith Stroup was implicated in a cocaine scandal that also involved White House drug advisor Dr. Peter Bourne (See “High in America: The True Story Behind NORML and the Politics of Marijuana,” Patrick Anderson).

Mr. Stroup resigned his position as the director of NORML and the group’s credibility and legitimacy were shattered. After this incident, NORML retreated to the local level of political activism, but they had suffered a substantial blow that crippled the organization for years to come27 (see Appendix C, Doc. 1). As a result of the incident, NORML was forced into the difficult task of re—establishing its image, membership, and political influence which it continues today.

The first re—emergence of NORML on the national scene came in the early 198O’s when the U.S. government began using paraquat, a highly dangerous carcinogenic chemical, on Mexican cannabis/hemp crops and suggested it’s use in the U.S. as well28 (See Appendix C, Doc. 1). NORML gathered its forces, and effectively stopped this practice at both the national and state levels and recaptured the headlines and some credibility in the process. Even though this represented a major victory for NORML, the group remained in a period of fluctuating membership and funding while it continued its search for an influential and charismatic leader. Not until President Reagan initiated the War on Drugs in 1983 would NORML again see a significant improvement in its situation.29

Today (1991), NORML has about 7500 members at the national level, and 47 recognized chapters at the state and local levels30 (see Appendix A, Doc. 2, p. 1). The annual budget for NORML (national) is $300,000. This figure includes all operating costs, and the majority of it is consumed in printing and computer costs. As a result, NORML has no advertising budget. Any advertising done by NORML is through donated advertising space, most of which appears in “High Times” magazine31 (see Appendix E, Doc.14).

As the sender of a social message, NORML, even by its own standards, has failed. After over twenty years of operation, the group still has an inordinately small membership and operating budget when compared against the estimated number of cannabis/hemp users (see Appendix A, Doc.2, p.1) and has yet to accomplish its mission of reforming the laws dealing with cannabis/hemp at a national level.

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