Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The NORML Communications Campaign, pt. 3

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 persuasive challenges that face the NORML campaign are numerous and formidable. These challenges have roots in many different theories of communication and persuasion. A few of the major categories applicable to the campaign include cognitive consistency theories, identification theories, autonomy theory, the inoculation function, and empathy theory. The principles set forth in these theoretical frameworks interact to create the rhetorical reality of the NORML campaign.

Most of the major problems facing the NORML campaign can be linked to the theories surrounding the ‘cognitive consistency’ approach to behavior. This approach was first introduced by Leon Festinger in his 1957 publication “Theory of Cognitive Dissonance.”44

NORML is seen by most people in this hot-issue public as a source of disconfirming cognitive messages. As a result of the issue being so controversial, most of the areas of potential dissonance are contained within the value systems of the audience. When values are threatened, very intense reactions can occur. Many times, creating dissonance within the value system of the receiver can cause reactions that are totally unintended by the sender. Most often, a strengthening of the values that the sender had hoped to alter will occur.45 If a receiver encounters messages that disconfirm previously held beliefs, many times, that receiver will actually attempt to strengthen those beliefs by seeking out other confirming messages, or by discounting the source of the disconfirming message. This is very often the case with the NORML campaign. Because they are the source of disconfirming information for much of the public NORML is simply ignored, discounted, or avoided altogether. It is much easier for the average receiver of NORML’s messages to find fault in the messenger rather than to carefully examine their value system or to alter long-held beliefs. In his book “Marijuana: The New Prohibition,” John Kaplan sums this argument up quite well by saying “we do not like to see other people defend something we regard as morally wrong, and if factually they are correct, this merely makes the affront worse.”46 Kaplan goes on to quote Erich Good, elaborating that a factual attack on the majority view “poses a serious problem for those members of society who have an emotional investment in stability and in the legitimacy of their own special version of reality.”47

The messages attacking cannabis/hemp and misrepresenting its users have confronted this country for so long that they have since been ingrained into our national psyche and are now regarded as fact. The perpetuation of this rhetorical situation is the reason for the existence of organizations like DFA and DEY. These prohibitionist groups must continue to generate messages to re-enforce their values that denigrate cannabis/hemp for fear that tile factual evidence presented by NORML will replace the reality that they have worked so hard and spent so much money o create.

Another theory that is applicable to the NORML campaign is the theory of ‘autonomy.’ This theory is particularly salient because both NORML and its opposition employ it. DFA argues that drugs and drug dealers threaten the public’s autonomy by forcing them to give up control of their lives, whether it be from drug addiction or the “turf-wars” that rage in the streets throughout much of America. DFA contends that the solution to this problem is to outlaw this behavior. The fallacy of this logic, though, is that in order for this solution to be effective the public must be willing to give autonomy to the agencies designated to enforce the laws. Therefore, DFA’s solution will not give autonomy to the public, but instead place it in the hands of enforcement agencies.

NORML, on the other hand, argues that the public should take back the autonomy that the enforcement agencies have taken from them because in the current scenario, the public has no autonomy. But drugs, drug dealers, and enforcement agencies do have autonomy. NORML urges its members to regain their autonomy by taking part in the events that shape their lives through voting and becoming actively involved in community level politics.48

The ‘empathy’ theory, in which the source attempts to play upon the receivers’ emotions, is used many times throughout the course of NORML’s campaign and is especially prominent when dealing with the medical issues involved with cannabis/hemp prohibition.

NORML gives accounts like that of Gordon Hanson and many others who have been denied access to medical marijuana,49 and some even arrested for attempting to treat themselves with the drug (See Appendix C, Doc.2). These stories are designed to evoke sympathy in the receiver, which may then lead to empathy, which will hopefully then lead to some action on the part of the receiver.

NORML also uses information and statistics concerning the number of arrests and the total amount of seized assets stemming from cannabis/hemp related charges50 (See Appendix A, Doc.2) to evoke emotions in the receiver so as to effect a positive change in the receivers’ attitudes, beliefs, or values.

The empathy approach is most likely to be effective with those members of the audience who already have a favorable impression of the NORML campaign. Conversely, this approach is highly unlikely to persuade those audience members who are unfavorable towards NORML’s position. It is entirely possible, and perhaps even, likely, that the empathy approach has a “boomerang effect” on those members of the audience who believe that there should be more arrests and seizures of assets, and zero tolerance of the drug even in medical situations.

The function of ‘inoculation’ is the primary and most successful purpose served by NORML. The inoculation principle is designed to fortify the receiver with evidence in support of the main objective of the source. This evidence is to be used in refuting arguments against the position that may arise in the future.

NORML’s persuasive attempts have much room for improvement, but the factual evidence available through the organization in unparalleled. If NORML is able to achieve its initial persuasive goals, they are incredibly efficient at supplying the recent persuadee with highly salient and well documented factual information in support of their claims.

A further strength of NORML, with respect to inoculation, is the very desirable person—to—person contact that the group is able to ach4eve at rallies and conventions. A receiver is more likely to be persuaded by factual information presented during interpersonal communication than by printed or other types of materials.

‘Identification’ theories include many models of self—perception and of the association between an individual and the various groups in society. The association technique used by NORML to enhance its credibility can also be applied in this situation. NORML assumes, and rightly so, that if they can get the receiver to associate NORML with people or groups that the receiver considers to be positive, then the receiver is much more likely to accept the premises that NORML is a positive social group and has a favorable platform.


Upon final analysis of NORML’s campaign, there are several suggestions for improving the effectiveness of the campaign as a whole. The following, brief outline is merely a set of suggestions to be pondered, reformed, merged, and hopefully one day, implemented:

1. Decide upon a clear mission statement. This is imperative or both members and non-members alike to be able to focus on a simply stated, well-defined goal.

2. Specify a group of target audiences. A clearly segmented audience will allow for receiver specific campaigns (i.e. medical issues - health care professionals; legal issues - law community and legislators; civil rights - students/users.)

3. Create distinct offices within NORML. Have a bureau designated specifically for medicine, law, and agriculture. Again, this allows for more specificity and greater expertise in a given field.

4. Create a campaign specifically for the elderly. Traditionally, this is the hardest segment of the population to persuade, but there are issues here that are close to this group (i.e. they remember prohibition of alcohol, strong ties to agriculture, tax concerns.)

5. Create some kind of evaluative body. This is another imperative for the success of this campaign. NORML needs to know if its messages are reaching the desired audience, and if those messages are achieving the intended effect.

These are but a few suggestions, and obviously need much more development and refining if they are to ever be implemented. Hopefully, in the future, there will be a time to devote this much space, or more, to interpretation and expansion of these ideas.



1. U.S. Treasury Department, Bureau of Narcotics. Traffic in

Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs for the year ending Dec.

31, 1936. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing

Office, 1937 p.57

2. Kaplan, John. Marijuana-The New Prohibition. New York and

Cleveland: Meridian Books, The World Pub. Co., 1970

3. ibid. p.69

4. ibid. p.77

5. It is interesting to note that there was no Constitutional Amendment ratified to prohibit cannabis/hemp or any other currently illegal drugs--mr.

6. An in-depth study of the language used by prohibitionists in dealing with cannabis/hemp is a topic that might be worth pursuing——mr.

7. High Times hand bill referring to Popular Mechanics article

8. Wall St. Journal, May 2, 1991

9. U.S.T.D., p.76

10. Satyagraha, Feb., 1991

11. ibid. It is worthy to note that according to this article, 80% of DuPont’s business in the subsequent 50 years came from the sulfuric acid process-—mr.

12. ibid.

13. U.S.T.D., p.60

14. Encyclopedia of Organizations

15. Phone interview--Allen St. Pierre, Sept. 25, 1991

16. Yellow Pages, N.Y.T., p.D(28)L

17. Pro Bono, N.Y.T., p. D(21)L

18. Phone interview--Allen St. Pierre, Nov. 15, 1991

19. Don’t fry your brain, Forbes, p.116

20. Marijuana: Facts & Figures, p.4

21. Antidrug message..., Scientific American, p.36

22. interview--Ed Tant, Nov. 7, 1991

23. Still NORML..., High Times, p.24

24. Marijuana Use..., p.115-117

25. ibid., p.iv

26. ibid., p.116—117

27. Still NORML..., High Times, p.24

28. ibid.

29. ibid.

30. Marijuana: Facts & Figures, p.1

31. Phone interview--Allen St. Pierre, Sept. 25, 1991

32. Social Activism..., Gettman

33. Persuasion and Social Influence, Trenholm

34. Phone interview--Allen St. Pierre, Nov. 11, 1991

35. Jack Herer, author of “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” has a standing offer of $10,000 to anyone who can refute the information presented in his book——mr.

36. Witness the turnaround of public opinion after the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960--mr.

37. Marijuana: Facts & Figures, p.3

38. ibid.

39. Class notes, SPC 452, UGA, fall 1991

40. Marijuana War, Wash. Post, Dec. 3, 1989

41. Publics, Audiences.. .Gruning, p. 214-215

42. ibid.

43. Don’t fry your brain, Forbes, p.116

44. Persuasion and Social Influence, Trenholm

45. see Festinger and colleagues’ study of the Millerites, and others--mr.

46. Marijuana- The New Prohibition, Kaplan, p.17

47. ibid.

48. Social Activism..., Gettman

49. Epilepsy & Pot..., High Times, p.26

50. Marijuana: Facts & Figures, NORML


“An antidrug message gets its facts wrong.” Scientific American May 1990, p.36

Anderson, Jack, Van Atta, Dale. “Marijuana War.” The Washington Post 3 Dec. 1989

“Big Business Made Marijuana Illegal.” Satyagraha Feb. 1991, p. 14

Bonnie, Richard J. Marijuana Use and Criminal Sanctions— Essays on the Theory and Practice of Decriminalization. Charlottesville, Va.: The Michie Co., 1980

Burek, Debora M., ed. “Social Welfare Organizations.” Encyclopedia of Associations. Detroit, London: 1992, 26ed., V.1 part 2

Byrne, Al. “Still NORML After All These Years.” High Times Sep. 1990, p.24

Gettman, Jon B. Social Activism and Marijuana Reform—An Organizing Manual. Washington, D.C.: National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws

Gruning, James E. Publics, Audiences, and Market Segments:

Segmentation Principles for Campaigns. SPC 452, UGA:


Kaplan, John. Marijuana-The New Prohibition. New York and

Cleveland: Meridian Books, The World Pub. Co., 1970

Levine, Joshua. “Don’t fry your brain.” Forbes 4 Feb. 1991, p.116

Marijuana: Facts & Figures. pamphlet. Washington, D.C.:

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws


Mather, Mary Lynn. “Epilepsy & Pot: The Case of Gordon Hanson.” High Times Nov. 1990, p.26

Nazario, Sofia L. “What Is as Versatile As the Soybean But Illegal Anyway?” The Wall Street Journal 2 May 1991 p.’

Rottenburg, Randall. “Yellow Pages Space.” The New York Times 28 Mar. 1990, p.D(28)L

Rottenberg, Randall. “Pro Bono.” The New York Times 3 May 1990, p.D(21)L

St. Pierre, Allen. Telephone Interview. 25 Sep. 1991

St. Pierre, Allen. Telephone Interview. 15 Nov. 1991

Tant, Ed. Personal Interview. 7 Nov. 1991

Trenholm, Sarah. Persuasion and Social Influence New Jersey:

Simon and Schuster, 1989

U.S. Treasury Department, Bureau of Narcotics. Traffic in

Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs for the year ending Dec.

31, 1936. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing

Office, 1937

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