He returned to find that everything had changed. The movement to legalize
marijuana had run aground. In the 1970s, 11 states had decriminalized pot;
in the ’80s, none did. Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just say no’ crusade and the deadly
spread of crack cocaine had led to a backlash against drugs. And NORML was
nearly broke, politically impotent and beset by feuding factions.
Stroup saved NORML from self-destruction, St. Pierre says, but he failed to
bring back the glory days: ‘Keith could not replicate what he did in the
Part of Stroup’s problem was competition. In the ’90s, two new groups arose
to advocate drug-law reform, each bankrolled by an eccentric billionaire.
The Drug Policy Alliance is funded by financier George Soros. The Marijuana
Policy Project, founded by former NORML staffer Rob Kampia, is funded by
insurance mogul Peter Lewis. Both groups have spent millions on state
referendums to legalize medical marijuana — many successful, some not.
But Stroup has failed to find an eccentric billionaire sugar daddy for NORML.
‘I wish we had that kind of funding,’ he says. ‘If I had the kind of
funding that Kampia has, I think I could have done a lot more with it than
Now NORML limps by on about $750,000 a year, most of it raised from dues
paid by about 12,000 members. It’s not enough money to do much politicking,
so NORML is now largely a service organization for pot smokers, providing
tips on beating drug tests and legal advice for arrested smokers.
Over the past year money was so tight that Stroup laid off two staffers and
stopped collecting his $75,000-a-year salary for two months.
‘I view NORML as a small and shrinking dinosaur,’ Kampia says. ‘NORML’s
time has come and gone.’
Tom Riley, official spokesman for federal drug czar John Walters, agrees.
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