A Founder Looks at 50: Following Our Big Election Day Victories, It’s Time to Look Forward to 2021

NORML Founder Keith Stroup
NORML Founder Keith Stroup

For NORML’s 50th anniversary, NORML’s Founder Keith Stroup shared his reflections on a lifetime as America’s foremost marijuana smoker and legalization advocate. This is the final and twenty-fifth in a series of blogs on the history of NORML and the legalization movement.

Congratulations to all of you good folks who worked so hard to achieve our impressive marijuana initiative victories this past Tuesday in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, South Dakota and Mississippi! We ran the table, as gamblers like to say, because two-thirds of the American public are now supportive of full marijuana legalization and even higher percentages favor medical use. That is why, when we can put this issue before the voters, we nearly always win. 

Of course, it is crucial to understand that roughly half the states do not offer the option of voter initiatives to change state law, and in those states we have no other option but to continue to lobby and educate our elected officials — a job that becomes easier with each new addition to the list of legalization states.

We’ve had a great political run since 2012, when the first two states fully legalized marijuana, picking-up at least a couple of victories each election cycle; but Tuesday’s victories were different in scale.

First, adding four new legalization states in one day brings our total to 15 (and the District of Columbia), and demonstrates that the voters in virtually every region of the country (i.e., South Dakota and Montana) now embrace the concept with significant majorities. Fifty-seven percent of Montana voters approved the proposal; fifty-three percent of South Dakotans did similarly. And in each case, those victories sent a message to lawmakers in nearby states that they may be needlessly missing a new source of badly needed revenue that is going to their neighboring states.

But the two medical use victories were also important. First, any significant progress towards legalization in the deep south is wonderful news, and Mississippi is definitely the deep south. Sixty-six percent of voters approved the medical use proposal submitted by the voters. Also, the Mississippi legislature, fearing the voter-submitted version of medical use would be too progressive, submitted their own more restrictive version, giving the voters the choice, and the voters chose the more progressive bill 73.4 percent to 26.6 percent.

Medical use, in addition to adult-use, was also on the ballot in South Dakota. No state had previously offered both alternatives at the same election and there was some consternation that the public might take the easy way out by approving medical use, and rejecting full legalization. But in fact, voters handily approved both (69.2 percent approval for medical use; 53 percent approval for full legalization).

I think it is time to stop looking back and begin looking forward. 2021 stands to be another banner year for our movement.

So when we stand back and try to fairly analyze the results of this election, as least when viewed through the lens of one wanting to end marijuana prohibition and fully legalize marijuana regardless of why one smokes, this was our finest hour politically.

Ironically, the marijuana legalization issue, which was a “hot button” political issue for decades, the discussion of which could almost be guaranteed to destroy a Thanksgiving dinner with extended family, may now become fertile common ground where those of us who may not agree on some other important issues, nonetheless can congregate and begin to rebuild a sense of community.

That’s likely a bit optimistic, and may simply reflect my early anti-war/hippie ideals still shining through all these decades later. But for now, it is the best way I know to deal with the anxiety that I and millions of my fellow citizens are currently feeling as we await the outcome of this latest presidential race. A lot is at stake and it is important.

So during this time of uncertainty, I urge you to stay safe and stay high. I have enjoyed writing these (mostly) weekly blogs over the last six months reminiscing over the 50-year history of NORML and the marijuana legalization movement, but I think it is time to stop looking back and begin looking forward. 2021 stands to be another banner year for our movement. We will see the implementation of adult use and medical programs in the states that just approved their ballot initiatives, more interest and efforts coming from state legislatures seeking to catch up to their neighbors by debating legislation to end their own prohibition on marijuana, and the potential for some very impactful federal votes on descheduling legislation. It has been a wild five-decade ride for NORML and it was important to reflect on how we got to where we are today during NORML’s 50th anniversary. But now is the time to double down and carry on the fight into the future to finally end prohibition nationwide once and for all, and to assure that responsible marijuana smokers are treated fairly in all aspects of their lives.