Benjamin Franklin Invented NORML (and the marijuana law reform movement)!

Today America Celebrates Ben Franklin’s 304th Birthday

By George Rohrbacher, NORML Board of Directors, medical marijuana patient
Of all of America’s Founding Fathers, only Benjamin Franklin was a signer of all three of our country’s essential documents, The Declaration of Independence, the Treaty that ended the Revolutionary War and the United States Constitution. Benjamin Franklin was also the only Founding Father who actively campaigned against the institution of slavery. As a scientist, Benjamin Franklin, the man who learned to control lightning, was as revered and world-famous in his day, as Einstein was in his. Franklin, among many other things, gave us the conceptual framework we still use every time we think about things electrical. He was the first to describe electricity as having positive and negative charges. Ben Franklin’s fingerprints are everywhere one looks in 21st Century.
Ben Franklin has often been called “the first American”, because, in so many ways, he embodied the brash new nation he helped create. His talents as an inventor and scientist are legendary. Consider a few of the useful creations that Ben left us: bifocal glasses, the wood stove and the lightning rod. They were all inventions he chose not to patent because he saw they were so potentially useful to the general public. They were among his many gifts to humanity. As the statesman, Ben Franklin was as essential to creating our new nation, as was George Washington, the soldier. Franklin’s unique combination of charm, celebrity and brilliance brought France in on our side of the Revolutionary War with the troops, navy and money necessary for us to win. As a proud citizen of a free society, Ben’s genius also flourished with his social inventions like the volunteer fire department, the lending library, the community hospital and, what has become, the University of Pennsylvania. As a writer, his prime work is The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, a bestseller, never out of print since it was written, nearly 250 years ago. It is the true story of a runaway printer’s apprentice who, at the age of 17, stole himself from his older brother to whom he was indentured until he was 21 years old. Franklin’s Autobiography is the original blueprint to the ‘American Dream’ of how to become a self-made man. Horatio Alger and Dale Carnegie, are simply Ben’s 19th and 20th Century adherents and proselytizers. Today in the 21st Century, self-help books cover whole walls in bookshops. Franklin was the author the world’s very first best-selling book in the self-help genre.
I made a few comments at NORML’s National Conference at the 2008 conference about why I believe that NORML is a legitimate offspring of Ben Franklin’s social genius. On my flight home, I looked out the airplane window and I saw Ben waving back at me.
I was seated aft of the wings, watching the flaps extend to slow the aircraft for landing. I noticed from each of the tailing edges of the wing’s struts, there was a little antenna-looking thing, about as long as a ballpoint pen. I wondered, were those things some version of Ben Franklin’s lightning rod? The flight attendants couldn’t tell me, but I collared a pilot and asked him. “You bet,” he answered, “those are kind of negative lightning rods. As the air rushes over the wings, these little rods help drain off any charges the airplane builds up flying. With those little rods dissipating the plane’s electrical charge, they make aircraft far less likely to be hit by lightning.” Yes, kindly old Benjamin Franklin had been looking back at me from the tailing edge of that wing strut, after all.
Ben Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts in Jan 17, 1706, in an age dark with superstition and just fourteen short years after the Salem witch trials had been held. Not only were witches seen as real, witches were so greatly feared they were seen as needing execution by pressing, drowning, burning and hanging, or all of the above. Natural phenomena were so poorly understood that the Devil often got the blame for their occurrence. For example, if lightning struck your house or barn, it was seen as a sign that you deserved it. People might stand back let your lightning-struck building burn, as God intended, and work to save only “innocent” buildings around it. Franklin’s revelation, and kite-in-the-thunderstorm proof, was that the lightning in the clouds was the very same stuff as the static electricity created by brushing your hair or rubbing your socks on the carpet, just present in vastly larger quantities. It was also Franklin’s brilliant and revolutionary deduction that one could safely discharge lightning striking a building by channeling the charge down a wire to a rod buried three feet into the ground, still a foundation of today’s international fire protection codes.
By explaining and controlling one of nature’s most fearsome phenomenons, Ben Franklin’s elegant gift to humanity of the knowledge of what lightning really was, swept away before it countless generations of hocus pocus, superstition and ignorance on the subject.
After arriving as a runaway youth in Philadelphia with nothing more than two loaves of bread under his arms while eating a third, and through the full employment of his wits and ambition, by the age of 35, Ben Franklin was a rich man. He was a great success as a businessman, both printer and publisher. Along the way, Ben Franklin also invented franchising as a way to speed the creation of his wealth. By hiring and training the very best and brightest employees he could find, and then sending them off to other colonies with the capital sufficient to set up Franklin-style print shops there, they created a sizable income stream that was sent back home to Philadelphia. Ben was soon financially set up for his new life as one of the great scientists and statesmen of modern history. By the age of 42 Ben retired from business for good. The invention of science has always been regarded as one of mankind’s greatest achievements; Ben Franklin soon became one of the history of science’s great practitioners. At the age of 47, Ben was awarded the Copley Medal, his era’s equivalent of a Nobel Prize in Physics.

In 1787, Josiah Wedgewood produced 20,000 of these medals in porcelan and sent one of them to Ben Franklin, who said he was tormented by doubts while looking at it.

But of all the gifts Ben Franklin left the modern world, one of the most precious and productive, and something he is rarely credited with as its inventor, is the service club, the voluntary association of free people who come together and, by joint action, make their communities better…you know—the Kiwanis Club, Rotary, NORML! Ben Franklin, as a young printer, started such a club, the prototype of all future service clubs and nonprofits. It was called, Junto. They met every Friday night in a room above a tavern. It is during these club meetings where the first lending library came to life, the University of Pennsylvania, the volunteer fire department and the community hospital got their legs under them. Junto was the place where good ideas became community action; this is Ben Franklin’s brilliant organizational legacy that led directly to NORML.
Well, just how well are we modern day folks at NORML caring for Ben’s precious intellectual legacy? First, the Great Experimenter would probably ask, “How is the experiment going?” NORML’s website could connect him with 17,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies in the burgeoning field of Cannabinoid/endocannabinoid research and to 2,500 cataloged articles from the general press on the subject of marijuana.
As a writer, publisher and businessman, Ben Franklin would revel in the world-wide web and its potential. NORML’s website and blog are visited by up to 40,000 people every day, about 4 million unique visitors per year. Our website is stocked with over 10,000 pages of closely vetted information on the subject of marijuana, and from our online lending library of information, each day, every single day, the public downloads and prints off, in their own homes and offices, between 1.25-to-1.5 million pages from NORML’s website! That makes it about 10-million pages per week, or 500 million pages per year—all printed off by the end-user without requiring a single postage stamp for delivery!!! (A penny saved is still a penny earned—just as Poor Richard taught us so many years ago.) I think old Ben would be very proud of NORML for this wonderfully frugal, but revolutionary and growing success in the world of information dissemination.
The scientific method and proper intellectual rigor applied to the problems at hand were extremely important to Ben Franklin, all throughout his long life; these are organizational values that have been instilled since the beginning of NORML by our Board of Directors. In addition to our well-known legal tradition and the support of the over 550 attorneys of NORML’s Legal Committee; NORML’s scientific tradition forms the second, interlocking intellectual backbone of our organization. In the nearly 40 years of NORML’s existence, many luminaries in the area of science and science education have served/or are serving on the NORML’s Board of Directors. Here is just a small sampling from the long distinguished list of men and women of science who have helped make NORML what it is today: Dr. Benjamin Spock, M.D., the ground-breaking and best-selling pediatrician; Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., world-recognized pioneer in alternative medicine; Dr. Kary Mullis, PhD., Nobel Laureate Chemistry 1992, for work upon which is based all DNA replication and cataloguing work that has been done since; Dr. Louis Lasagna, M.D., the first scientist to prove experimentally that the placebo effect was real; Dr. Lester Grinspoon, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus, Harvard Medical School; Dr. John P. Morgan, M.D., Professor of Pharmacology and a noted Pharmaco-ethnomusicologist; and Ann Druyan, President of Cosmos Studios, and co-writer and co-producer with her late husband, Carl Sagan, of the beloved Emmy and Peabody Award winning Cosmos Series for PBS. NORML Board Members, all.
Yes, indeed, I think Ben Franklin would be very proud to have spawned NORML, just as we are, proud to be Ben’s offspring.


*Thanks to Robert Melamede, PhD for the chart

0 thoughts

  1. Again, what a waste of time and energy. Mr. Rohrabacher should know that better scholars than he have documented hemp history to little political effect. Furthermore, he, as a NORML board member, would be better served organizing fundraising for a real-world project, or connecting the organization with sympathetic politicos, journalists, or other persons of note or use to the organization rather than writing these meandering and pointless essays for the gratification of his own ego. Finally, if he cannot do any of these useful things, he should recuse himself from NORML’s board because he is ultimately not performing the basic duties of a board member of a nationally known nonprofit.
    I wonder if NORML will publish this comment or if their comment board will prove to be a just another site where legitimate criticism is not welcome. I hope this is not the case.

  2. You don’t mention in the article how the press he founded in Philly was a hemp paper press, so the colonists didn’t need to beg or justify their need for paper to England.

  3. If Ben Franklin or any of the other founding fathers were here today, they would be out in the streets with guns.

  4. Just as good old Ben said “He who gives up freedom for security deserves neither freedom nor security.” I stand for the idea of freedom everyday by smoking my weed responsibly and protesting unjust marijuana laws.
    GO BEN!

  5. CNBC has a poll on whether or not Marijuana should be decriminalized and right now its at 98% yes with over 2000 votes. Please vote takes literally 2 seconds.
    Marijuana Inc: Inside America’s Pot Industry, Poll, Legal, Legislation, Decriminalization, Usage, International, Business, Government, Drug, Medicine –

  6. I love Ben Franklin. I wish there was room for people like him in our country today. Perhaps we can make room for them now. I’m sure we would be much better for it.
    Blessed be~

  7. I am just now reading a bio of BF, published 2003. Sub-titled “An American Life”. So I am interested in all things Franklin at the moment. And I think BF would be appalled at the witch hunts that go in the land of the supposedly-free. I hope that the next four to eight years will finally kill the war on American freedom, misnamed the war on drugs. My fingers are crossed {makes it hard to type!}. Come on Obama, do the right thing, and call off the Dogs of War.

  8. Ben Franklin continues to inspire, thanks for the reminder.
    Hopefully change is on the way for our #!??**!! laws on marijuana.

  9. Franklin and the rest of the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) would be turning in their graves if they knew how much the civil liberties for which they fought, and in many cases died, have been eroded by our modern society’s lame attempt to make everything nice and safe for. . . I don’t know who.

  10. Interview with PROSPECT HILL in Methuen, MA about question 2 decrim and the Methuen city hearing to overturn what 65% of MA voters voted for.
    Music: Prospect Hill
    “Break Down” and “4 AM”
    For info on all the local hearings and flyers/posters to bring to them.
    Lawrence Eagle Tribune Agrees With Us! Methuen Mayor William Manzi this is a bad idea.
    Methuen City Council, 7PM, TUESDAY NIGHT!
    Searles Building, Room 308
    41 Pleasant St.
    Methuen, MA 01844
    You can also call the city counsil, please leave them a message! Thanks them for their service and ask they vote with the will of the people and for decrim as it stands and is working…
    Methuen Council Office: 978-983-8510

    City and town officials across the state are scrambling to pass RE-CRIMINALIZATION BY-LAWS that would make pot smokers criminals again.
    Quincy, Framingham, and Milford are already very close to passing these measures. Worcester city counsil was the first to vote on it, we won in Worcester.
    Will your town follow? Check out and for the latest news!
    Tell your town governments to keep marijuana DECRIMINALIZED and not RECRIMINALIZED!
    Be there with us this Tuesday Night, 7PM on the streets in front of Quincy City Hall and then inside for the city council hearing!
    Quincy City Council:
    1305 Hancock St, Quincy, Massachusetts 02169
    Date: Tuesday, January 20, 2009
    Time: 7:00 – 8:00 pm
    By MBTA: Red Line (Braintree Train) to Quincy Center. City Hall is behind the T Station on Hancock Street.
    Despite the 63% margin of voters who said “yes” to Question 2, Quincy will be looking to RECRIMINALIZE MARIJUANA on Tuesday, January 20, when they meet at 7pm. If they are successful, Quincy will be the first town in Massachusetts to do so since Question 2 passed.
    This could open the door to more towns following suit.
    Last week, the Worcester city council voted 7-4 AGAINST recriminalizing marijuana. If it is defeated in Quincy, it will show lawmakers across the state that decriminalization was the right choice, and that the voters knew what they were doing when they said “YES.” DONT LET YOUR VOICE GET SILENCED BY THE “REEFER MADNESS MENTALITY” OF YOUR LOCAL GOVERNMENT.
    Come stand with our brothers and sisters in Quincy, and lets end this recriminalization movement now.
    Calling out Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, Methuen Mayor Manzi and any other paid politician ruling against the vote of the majority who feel like nobody should ever be arrested for using cannabis!
    Patriot Ledger Letter to Editor about Protest/Rally!

  11. Very well done. At the moment, people are hopeful for change. Why, then, do I get the sense that Obama will be using the marijuana issue like a carrot on a stick? Why do I feel like his cabinet is saying, “Let’s tackle this issue, but let’s do it NEXT term.”
    In all fairness, Obama isn’t president until tomorrow, but I know some of you feel some of the same things. We can remain hopeful and still realize that our new president may not be the champion for reform we hope that he is. Obviously we must be prepared for either scenario.
    NORML is of the people, by the people, and for the people. I think old Ben would have approved. Hell, I think he would have been a Board Member.

  12. Happy Birthday Ben! I’m proud to have NORML around and I know that you are right that Ben would be proud to have spawned it.
    I always enjoy your articles the most George, they are always well crafted. Write on, and most importantly, toke on!

  13. Really? Do you really think that a stony article, about how Ben Franklin would be proud of NORML, is good PR?
    This movement is going nowhere until we all start representing ourselves in a way that defies stereotypes.

  14. I am proud of this site for the second time. The first was when I heard of it’s existence. An idea of sanity existed. This morning is the second occassion.
    Voices standing up in the comment section, standing firm on their resolve. Not this pandering to the powers that be. Not this “they must not understand” approach. We all know the government understands. Now, they know we understand them as well. What’s it to be government? Today is your chance. Today is perhaps the last chance for peace. I live for peace, but am prepared for war. That should be the motto of all Americans. At all times. Peace, Jim

  15. An article on Ben Franklin that doesn’t even mention the fact that his printing presses were based on HEMP paper? For shame.
    Honestly though, I hope Obama does work on reforming the war on drugs, and immediately takes steps to respect state laws federally. But as far as making pot legal across the board, I really hope he does earn a massive amount of trust and respect before doing so. Otherwise, after he is out of office, the next conservative in the White House will make repealing pot legalization issue #1, and with avengence.

  16. I found that to be very enlightening and a breath of fresh air. I visit this site almost every single day and always encounter new knowledge, but today I was surprised to learn about such an important and influencial historical figure. Granted I knew some of the facts provided I still needed some refreshment. Keep up the good work!
    Thanks norml
    Franny b

  17. Mike CANN: I viewed your video on YouTube (also sent it to a many of my friends) and wanted to wish you “much success” on your rally and in your efforts. The politicians can’t ignore 65% of the vote, the people have spoken! Good luck. I don’t live in Massachusetts but you’ve still got the support of me and my friends here in Calif. and Hawaii.
    And great article on Benjamin Franklin! Very inspiring.

  18. I’ve always liked good old Ben.
    Prohibition just doesn’t make sense once you take a good, hard look at the facts.
    People like Ben just don’t come around anymore.

  19. Franklin invented the SORT of group that NORML is; that’s very different from ‘inventing NORML’ and thus it is my belief that this article gives a bad name to cannabis users… I mean, we’re not ALL stupid enough to say ‘Franklin invented NORML! That’s right! He invented clubs!’.

  20. Good article. Ben was a true American. To me, his face is the personification of freedom (everything our country stands for).. maybe that’s why he’s the one pictured on the $100 bill. I think if you just look around the world today, you can see his influence all around you. Did you know he mapped out the ocean currents before we had any technology that could measure it? Well, he did, and his observations were proven to be astonishingly accurate. Ben was a true genius… way ahead of his time!

  21. The CNBC poll now has over 10,000 votes with 97% in favor of Marijuana decrim, the people have and continue to speak on cannabis, lets see obama step up and do what he said he would, or else hes not better than any other stinkin lyin politician.

  22. Toby Saunders (comment #29) made a very good point… the article’s title should be renamed.
    Anyway, it’s been 4 days since the NORML blog has been updated… what’s up with that? I would like to know what happened during that press conference where will present (or presented) the top 10 ideas on the website, including the legalization issue.

  23. t&c…
    “If Ben Franklin or any of the other founding fathers were here today, they would be out in the streets with guns.”
    That would make a great movie. Hey Bruckheimer!
    Don’t hold your toke waiting on action from Obama.

  24. I can hardly discern what the overtly negative comments from “Honestly” are supposed to mean as they’re non-sense and derived from ignorance.
    The suggestion that Mr. Rohrbacher should resign from NORML’s board because you didn’t appreciate his well-worded and thoughtful essay is as ridiculous as it is shallow.
    “Honestly” don’t you think it presumptuous of you to assume that Mr. Rohrbacher does not raise funding for NORML? In fact, how do you know that he (and is family members) have not been generous donors, as well as fundraisers for the organization?
    You don’t!
    Here is the truth. Mr. Rohrbacher is an active board member, donor and fundraiser at NORML.
    “Honestly”, please don’t pollute NORMLs blog comment section with uninformed blather and negativity. Why don’t you consider directing that kind of energy at say, the DEA, ONDCP or myriad anti-cannabis organizations rather than a volunteer board member of a non-profit organization.
    -Allen St. Pierre
    Director (and fellow board member with Mr. Rohrbacher)
    NORML / NORML Foundation

  25. Obama rocked out to Bob Marley. I saw that. He’s not dumb. He knew he was on TV. The fact that Bob Marley was represented in Obama’s Inaugural Concert says something. I’m sure every single song was vetted by someone on his team.

  26. I dont want to change the subject. but when is congress and the house supposed to vote on Barney Frank’s bills?

  27. Don’t mean to change the subject but is NORML ever going to update the site. what was the outcome on ending and the question being #1 again? Was is it answered or was it pushed under the rug? Also, tonite Marijuana I.N.C. will air, check the time in your location.

  28. Where is the constitutional authority to implement drug prohibition?
    I wish Mr. Franklin would be here to join me in insisting on a valid answer to that simple-yet-very-important question.

  29. I agree with Ray, any updates on that or anything concerning legalizing marijuana?
    Very good article about Ben by the way.

  30. >Ray Says:
    >January 22nd, 2009 at 9:18 am
    >I dont want to change the subject. but when is congress and the house >supposed to vote on Barney Frank’s bills?
    Frank and Paul’s HR 5843 died with the 110th Congress, and will have to be re-introduced in this Congress. The important question for reformers is, when?
    Last year Frank/Paul dropped HR 5843 on April 20….
    Thanks for question.

  31. smiles,
    The results of the poll were discussed last Friday extensively on the Audio Stash blog and podcast. There were also two posts on NORML’s main blog about it.

  32. It’s great to see people posting “our” beleifs. One thing we need to focus on is getting people like us in the positions that can reform the laws. We really need to make this happen. I know so many outstanding Americans who’s lives will be harmfully affected for many years over questionable “crimes” of marijuana laws. It is truly a shame that we are not there yet; especially on the medical side. So in closing, please keep fighting for your beleifs and your right to use marijuana.

  33. I think that the legalization of marijuana is inevitable. * Another recent voice coming from one of the “good guys” – I commend him on his honesty. Just think of the billions spent on the war that should be instead collected from those that choose to toke up.
    With more and more emphasis to legalize, regulate, and control the substance than ever, there is no doubt that it will eventually become legal – and probably sooner than later.
    I find comfort in one thing: weed is not going away, why not make money from it and get rid of the criminal element at the same time.
    Oh well, we shall see.

  34. This is a great article. I have to write a thesis paper for my english class and its going to be on the legalization of marijuana. I will most deffinetly include this in it.

  35. According to my high school teacher Mr. Franklin used opium near the end of his life. If done today we would have to imprison him until his end came.

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