Gerry Goldstein: A Champion for Social Justice

SR2-11It was with great pleasure that NORML presented the first annual Michael J. Kennedy Social Justice Award this past week to criminal defense attorney Gerald H. Goldstein, a long-time NORML activist and senior partner with the firm of Goldstein, Goldstein and Hilley in San Antonio, TX.

The award, named after the late Michael J. Kennedy, the legendary civil rights and criminal defense attorney (and general counsel for High Times magazine from its inception in 1974 until his death in early 2016), was established, with the blessing of the Kennedy family, to honor those individuals who, like Michael Kennedy, dedicate their lives to advancing the cause of social justice in America. Eleanora Kennedy, Michael’s window, and their daughter Anna Safir, spoke at the ceremony, reminding us of Michael’s 40-year support for NORML and our mission to legalize marijuana, and suggesting he would be thrilled that his colleague Goldstein would be the first recipient of this annual award.

The inscription on the award reads as follows:

“To Gerald H. Goldstein, in recognition of your lifetime commitment to achieving social justice for all people, including especially those without the resources or social standing to achieve justice on their own. Your willingness to speak for the underdog, the disenfranchised and the unpopular, like Michael Kennedy himself, has defined your exemplary personal and professional life.”

And few lawyers in America better fit this description than my dear friend Gerry Goldstein.

Goldstein first became involved in the struggle to end marijuana prohibition back in 1972, when he volunteered to represent NORML in the state of Texas, which, at that time, was the state handing down the harshest marijuana sentences in the country. In fact, Texas at the time had more than seven hundred people serving sentences of ten years or longer for (mostly) non-violent marijuana offenses, with more than thirty people serving sentences of thirty years or longer, and thirteen people serving life sentences.

We realized it was important to publicize that cruel reality, and with Goldstein’s help, we managed to arrange a tour of the Texas prison system with major media, including the New York Times and the AP, to interview a sampling of these poor souls. As a result of the national publicity that resulted, the governor established a panel to review the sentences of those marijuana offenders, and most were subsequently released years earlier than would otherwise have been the case.

Goldstein also became the go-to-guy to represent Vietnam War draft resisters during that era, as well as other protesters willing to challenge unfair policies of the government.

And there have been many occasions over the years when Goldstein would fly across the country to represent a marijuana defendant facing a lengthy prison sentence because he understood the injustice of marijuana prohibition and could not look the other way. He is an extraordinarily talented and committed individual who has no fear of challenging those who would oppress the less fortunate among us. His personal and professional life has been a tapestry of helping others, and a model for those who seek to assure a more just society for all.

Over time, Goldstein joined the ranks of the elite criminal defense attorneys in the country, serving as president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and a founding member of the NORML Legal Committee (NLC), where he, along with noted San Francisco criminal defense attorney Michael Stepanian, were named “co-chairs for life.”

He has represented clients as diverse as Manual Noriega and the movie “Deep Throat” before the US Supreme Court; has represented many clients pro bono on behalf the Innocence Project, including the exoneration of Michael Morton, who served 25 years for a crime he did not commit — a case which led to the prosecutor and sitting Texas judge being sentenced to jail for Morton’s wrongful conviction. Goldstein has met with several US Attorney Generals to discuss issues confronting the criminal justice system; and has made himself available to fight some of the toughest battles with the government to protect the right of every citizen to a vigorous defense and the assistance of competent counsel when accused or suspected of a crime.

Goldstein received NORML’s Al Horn Memorial Award in 1999, and the Lester Grinspoon Award in 2011 for his lifetime of advocacy and support for ending marijuana prohibition; the Robert C. Heeney Memorial Award for the outstanding criminal defense attorney in the US from NACDL; the John Henry Faulk Civil Libertarian of the Year Award from the ACLU; and was named a “Legal Legend” by the State Bar of Texas and is a member of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Hall of Fame, as well as scores of additional awards (literally too numerous to list) recognizing his commitment to social justice in America.

And throughout his storied career, Goldstein has never lost sight of the plight of “the underdog, the disenfranchised and the unpopular,” which is why he richly deserves this first annual Michael J. Kennedy Social Justice Award.

Thank you, Gerry, for a lifetime of fighting for the underdog.


This column was originally published on

18 thoughts

  1. Congratulations, Mr. Goldstein!

    Many thanks to you for sticking up for what is right!

  2. Thanks for the backround story Keith. It’s great to know we have a champion for civil justice living here in San Antonio Texas, not far from where I call home.

    The media shaming, particularly with my rep Lamar Smith and governor Abbott who claim to support our veterans here on Memorial Day on one hand while denying the use of marijuana as treatment for PTSD on the other… is something we need to do again here in Texas. Go ahead and lie to your voters during an election year on camera. Let it post on YouTube and Twitter. See what happens. Hell, I’m only 38 and I don’t even use Facebook or Twitter but it still beats the ratings of local network news or cable news like CNN and MSNBC combined.

    I still often wonder if the only channel to cover the last marijuana march here in Austin, Fox 7, helped influence the decision in Dallas during the Republican convention to add hemp and improving the Compassionate Use Act to the Republican platform? What a powerful tool to persuade our elected officials… merely educating representatives of their own party’s platform to support medicinal and industrial cannabis! That, and the psychological influence of a viral clip of exposure to the camera proves too heavy on the guilty conscience of some corrupt legislators.

    When our active research retires for the day to passive media consumption, are independent news like TYT or non-for-profit consumer-advocacy websites built by lawyers for civil justice like NORML the last firewall in America that still provide checks and balances for those things we call “facts,” “investigative legal reporting” or “peer-reviewed science?” How did John Oliver recently put it on his segment on scientific studies on Last Week Tonight? “There’s no Pulitzer prize for fact-checking, which, by the way, is a motivational poster in Brian Williams’ dressing room.”

    The real profit and award is in education. Thanks Keith, Paul and to all that make that happen on this website.

  3. Thank you, Mr Goldstein as well as NORML for making any progress at all possible.

  4. Speaking of champions of social justice, I hope Pennsylvania hires a champion of social justice to be its very first Director of the Bureau of Medical Marijuana.

    Wow, 123 applicants!

    Excerpt from a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, online newspaper:

    Here are four highlights of the announcement.

    1.The department intends to issue all temporary regulations by the end of this calendar year, in the following order: Growers and processors, dispensaries, physicians, patients and caregivers, and laboratories. They will last for two years.
    2.The department has received 123 applications for its newly created position of Medical Marijuana Program Director, and anticipates filling the role by mid-July.
    3.The department is seeking public input as it develops the regulations, via surveys on its website. The first one, available now, is focused on growers and processors, asking questions like “What security requirements should exist to prevent diversion of medical marijuana?” and “What specific advertising restrictions should be considered?”
    4.The department said it expects to produce regulations in July to guide parents on how to bring medical marijuana bought legally from another state into Pennsylvania to administer to a child with a qualifying condition.

    Questions about it can be answered as mentioned in this article:

  5. If we want to win California, listen up. The only thing that can go wrong with the AUMA ballot initiative is what happened in Ohio, pro-legalization fools who think that they were hurting the wealthiest 1% by voting no. There is no need to worry about what some police chief or whoever thinks, it is what the potential yes voters think is a reason to vote no that should be of concern. The campaign should be about how it isn’t worse than now, doesn’t adversely affect medical users (correct me if that is not true), limit our rights as Americans, and such seemingly obvious advantages of legalization over today’s black market. Congratulations, Mr. Goldstein, well done and thank you.

  6. As I continue to support Maine and California’s legalization and Canova’s campaign against Washmoney Shultz in Florida, I in no way slowed down here in Texas. Besides supporting Congressman Orourke and Moody from El Paso, our greatest allies for legalization here, I continue to remind Republicans that the Dallas convention voted to support improving the Compassionate Use Act and donestic hemp cultivation.
    Over the years, Ive received the same old bull$#!+ response from Senator Cornyn about hemp, stating he “shares the concern of the DEA” that legal hemp operations would conceal illegal marijuana. Something made me write him back, one Texan to another, and tell him the pretend game is over. We need a candidate for the Texas Senate that represents the majority of Texans and will help our beef, corn and cotton industries survive the next drought. During my next post, I’ll copy the letter I wrote:

  7. Dear Senator Cornyn,
    Thank you for your response to the cultivation of industrial hemp in the state of Texas. It is very important that our State Senators keep an open dialogue over hemp cultivation, changing public opinion, changing Republican party platforms, and most importantly the facts regarding hemp and marijuana as they affect the Texan economy.
    Allow me to be as blunt as a Texan can be and say the DEA does not give a damn about the real facts surrounding marijuana and hemp cultivation. Adversely, the Republican Party recently voted in the recent Dallas convention to support the cultivation of industrial hemp in the state of Texas, reflecting the opinion of the majority of Texan voters.
    As you may know, the CSAct compells NIDA and the DEA to not only deny the medical efficacy of marijuana, but to eliminate feral hemp through the DEA’s eradication program, even though hemp that was grown near Houston to supply Texan soldiers during the battle for the Republic, and grown again for our hemp for victory campaign during WWII.
    I’m going to tell it to you straight, Senator Cornyn; Your argument that you “share the concern of the DEA” that growing hemp in the state of Texas would somehow cause illegal grow operations to flourish is not fooling anyone; you are simply as dead wrong as feeding cattle corn during a Texas drought when corn won’t grow… But hemp will.
    Ask any successful industrial hemp grower in the various states throughout the US that are legally profiting from its domestic growth like Kentucky, Vermont, Washington or North Dakota and they will tell you they don’t need their crop growing anywhere near recreational or medicinal marijuana, legal or otherwise.

  8. … The cross pollination would be about as disasterous as crossing a german shepherd with a chihuahua. Yes, it can be done, (if male hemp doesn’t crowd out the female marijuana from sunlight which it very likely will or the male chihuahua gets a ladder, which it very likely won’t)… but “hiding” illegal marijuana in a legal hemp field is simply not going to create the results that either strain of cannabis was intended for. Hemp crossed with marijuana loses it’s capacity for fiber and protein for which it is cultivated. Hemp grows more than 6ft tall; marijuana is usually shorter and the quality of legaly regulated indoor operations is making illegal outdoor activity less profitable every day.
    Furthermore, if hemp fields were legally registered, an isolated illegal marijuana operation would be easily identified. Your argument of shared concern with the DEA doesn’t stand up to muster, and its time to face the facts;
    According to this study conducted by Nerdwallet, Inc., revenue from a legal marijuana industry in the state of Texas could top $166 million dollars;

    Hemp products including food and clothing are already being sold increasingly throughout Texas, while denying Texan farmers the ability to profit off of a domestic hemp market. Every time we have a drought, rice farmers, cities and feed corn operations fight over water rights while ranchers sell their prize cattle as the price of hay and feed goes up. Meanwhile hemp produces twice the cellulosic fiber than cotton and twice the protein than corn while using half the amount of water… And we’re still feeding corn to out cattle? Are we waiting for the next drought?

  9. …Or should we be taking advantage of the hemp research amendment to the farm bill and figure out what strains of hemp grow well and where and stop pretending like we can’t tell the difference between hemp and marijuana, stop Texas from losing our beef industry, stop the opiate suicide of our veterans and honor those who bravely fought to create the great state of Texas and legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp.
    Thank you for your attention to this critical matter, may we respect our ancestors with the facts about hemp and marijuana during hemp history week, and get with the program over what an overwhelming majority of Texans already know; Hemp is good, and it needs to be legalized.

    God bless, and God Bless Texas.

    Best Regards,


  10. I salute Mr. Goldstein!!!

    He is a true American; unlike most of our Congressmen and Senators… Many of them, in my humble opinion, are not that different than Nazis the way they ignore the will of the people, propagate lies, make policies that harm the public if it benefits them, have good people locked up for years for next to nothing (example: he sold his friend half of the ounce of weed he just got) and etc…

    1. The Congressmouths and Senators are naturally enough likely to be the color of the money that elects them… maybe we should try harder to trace down legally disclosed and dark money campaign contributions from pHARMa, alcohol and, I will make the case here, tobackgo.

      First, thank you Miles for your list concerning Nazis, as pronounced in standard world reference English “Not-C’s”, add these: Not-Civil, Not-Caring, Not-Concerned, Not-Considerate, Not-Compassionate, Not-Conscientious etc. Reminder that 3 of 4 top Nazis were pro-tobackgo: Goering owned a share of Otto Boehnicke Zigarrenfabrik (Berlin), a cigar box owned by Goering is for sale on line over thou$ands of bucks; look up “Himmler cigar” to see many images of Himmler with a cigar, he owned a beautifully crafted wood cigar box with metal inlaid deathsheads and SS-blitZes on it; Goebbels was an at-least-one pack-a-day $ig addict.

      Might someone have time to check down the tobackgo addiction or money-interest collusion records of anti-cannabis legislators and publish the same?

      Former Speaker Boehner had gotten $340,000 openly and “smoked a low-tar brand”– 2 deaths from the White House… As for Present Speaker Ryan, who passes out Ayn Rand literature, we know Ayn smoked ’em, died of cancer… she had a heroic character, John Galt’s old Professor (who had taught in Wisconsin, hmm) who deep in the furtive fictional pre-pre-cannabis Colorado of her novel sets up a roadside tobackgo stand (no not Pakistan, that’s later) selling a “brand” of $igarettes with a “dollar $ign” on the cover $elebrating some Randy free market theory (I forget if the brand name was Old Galt?).

      They KNOW cannabis legalization will drasticly reduce the number of kids getting hooked on $quares, and beyond that, the demand for doctor, ho$pital and pharmaceutical $ervices and products ($135-bil./year for $moking-related di$ea$e according to 2014 U.S. Surgeon General Report).

      1. It is truly disgusting that so many people in positions of authority and leadership put $$$ over the good of America and it’s people!

        They deserve to spend time in one of North Korea’s prison camps to consider their treatment of others!

  11. Mr. Goldstein deserves more than can be expressed in words for his advocacy on behalf of the Texas marijuana prisoners all those years ago.

    He, with Mr. Stroup and Mr. Hefner, saved the lives of hundreds of Texas marijuana prisoners in 1972 when they successfully fought for the reduction of the Texas penalty for marijuana — up to life imprisonment for even a seed.

    After my release in 1975, I never stopped thanking them daily in my prayers for all that they did. I am now in my 21st year as a judge in a small mountain community making sure that no innocent person ever suffers from evil and ignorant legislators and judges.

    May Mr. Goldstein, Mr. Stroup and Mr. Hefner enjoy the fruits of their labors on behalf of others.


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