Marijuana Law Reform Timeline

NORML’s and Marijuana Law Reform Timeline in America

April 29, 1911
Commonwealth of Massachusetts becomes first state to ban cannabis in the United States of America

August 2, 1937
President Franklin Roosevelt signed federal legislation that banned cannabis use, production and sales; including for industrial hemp.

President Franklin Roosevelt signs an executive order that allow for emergency hemp production for industrial uses during War World II for canvas, cordage, rope, oil and fodder. Numerous Midwest states were subsidized to produce industrial hemp in support of the war effort.

Medical products derived from cannabis were removed from the US Formulary and physicians could no longer prescribe it.

As soon as the war concluded, the Roosevelt administration re-banned industrial hemp production, stopped subsidizing its production and teaching farmers how to cultivate it.

Facing stiff federal penalties, industrial hemp farmers had to plow under their hemp crops and pharmacists had to have all cannabis-related medicines off of store shelves.

Beat poet Allen Ginsberg convenes one of the first organized public protests against Cannabis Prohibition laws, wearing hand written signs around his neck that read ‘Pot is a reality check’ and ‘Pot is fun!’ The effort was originally called ‘LeMar’, and later became the California-based reform organization, Amorphia.

Appellate court challenges to the 1937 ‘Reefer Madness’ anti-cannabis laws force the federal government to create a Controlled Substances Act and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 1970.

President Richard Nixon creates blue ribbon commission to review cannabis laws, historically known as the Shafer Commission.

Amorphia is founded in Mill Valley, California. The group funds itself by selling popular rolling papers.

Public interest attorney R. Keith Stroup founds the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in Washington, D.C.

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) becomes law and for the first time sets up a scheduling system for illicit and licit substances, classifying cannabis as a schedule I controlled substance with “a high potential for abuse; … no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; … [and a] lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”

The CSA called for a presidential commission to convene to examine cannabis policy, later to be known as the Shafer Commission.

First political pro-reform conference, the First People’s Pot Conference, convened by NORML in Washington, D.C.

The Shafer Commission recommends that cannabis should be decriminalized for personal use; and that personal cultivation be allowed along with small transfers for no profit (Nixon and US Congress reject recommendations). NORML takes the commission findings to all fifty states encouraging adoption of state decriminalization laws.

NORML files first ever lawsuit to re-schedule cannabis for medical use, under the Controlled Substance Act, NORML vs. DEA.

Amorphia merges into NORML.

Oregon becomes the first state to pass cannabis decriminalization legislation

NORML helps Robert Randall of Washington, D.C. become first legal medical cannabis patient ever in America.

President Jimmy Carter endorses the Shafer Commission’s findings and sends a statement to Congress on August 3 asking them to decriminalize cannabis possession in America for adults.

President Reagan is elected to the White House (along with his wife Nancy’s anti-cannabis crusade) and this effectively ends ‘an era of decriminalization’, from 1973 to 1981, culminating with eleven states having decriminalized marijuana possession at the time (AK, OR, CA, CO, NE, MN, MS, OH, NC, NY and ME).

NORML’s darkest days politically and financially with most of the political efforts directed to 1.) Successfully lobbying 36 states to pass non-binding medical cannabis laws (usually legislative resolutions encouraging the federal government to change the Controlled Substances Act to allow for the medicinal use of cannabis) and 2.) Organizing local stakeholders for cannabis law reforms in the form of active NORML chapters in most of the states.

Drug Enforcement Administration administrative law judge Francis Young rules in favor of NORML to make cannabis a medicine, citing among many affirming reasons “Marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.”

The Reagan administration and Department of Justice appealed DEA administrative law judge Young’s ruling seeking to uphold a total ban on cannabis—even for sick, dying or sense-threatened medical patients whose physicians recommend cannabis as a safe and non-toxic therapeutic agent.

San Francisco become the first city to pass an ordinance—with a 79% support rate— in favor of medical patients having access to cannabis.

NORML launches its first webpage on the World Wide Web (aka, Internet)

California Governor Pete Wilson vetoes popularly passed medical cannabis from the state legislature.

In a two-to-one decision, the US District Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. ruled in favor of the Drug Enforcement Administration in long-suffering NORML vs. DEA. NORML chooses not to appeal to US Supreme Court in fear of making ‘bad’ law.

California citizens place on the ballot and champion to victory Proposition 215 which sought to ‘legalize’ medical cannabis use, possession and cultivation. After numerous federal legal challenges, the basic law and right of doctors to recommend cannabis were affirmed.

NORML Foundation founded

Arizona’s voters also approve medical cannabis laws, but, because of problems with the language of the initiative, the law was never implemented.

Numerous states pass medical cannabis laws and patient protections: Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Arizona (though, again, the legislature failed to implement the will of the voters who approved a second medical cannabis initiative).

A legislative effort in Oregon is successfully made to place a ‘cannabis re-criminalization’ initiative on the ballot, which fails, 32%-68% as Oregonians prove they really like their so-called cannabis ‘de-crim’ laws.

Maine voters approved a medical cannabis initiative.

Nevada and Colorado voters approved medical cannabis initiatives.
Hawaii legislature passed medical cannabis legislation.

Montana voters approved a medical cannabis initiative.
Vermont’s legislature passed medical cannabis legislation.

Rhode Island legislature passed medical cannabis legislation.

New Mexico legislature passed medical cannabis legislation.

Michigan voters approve medical cannabis initiative.
Massachusetts voters approve a cannabis decriminalization initiative.

Arizona voters approve medical cannabis initiative for the third time since 1996.
District of Columbia City Council passed medical cannabis legislation.
New Jersey legislature passed medical cannabis legislation.
Voters in California narrowly defeat a cannabis legalization initiative, 53%-47%.

Delaware legislature passed medical cannabis legislation.
Connecticut legislature passed cannabis decriminalization legislation.
June 23, NORML gets the first ever cannabis legalization bill introduced into the US Congress

NORML Director Time Line:
Keith Stroup (1970-1980)
Larry Schott (1980-1981)
Gordon Brownell (1981-83)
Kevin Zeese (1983-1986)
Jon Gettman (1986-1989)
Donald Fiedler (1989-1991)
Gregory Porter (Interim-1991)
Richard Cowan (1991-1995)
Keith Stroup (1995-2005)
Allen St. Pierre (2005-)

NORML Foundation Director Time Line:
Allen St. Pierre (1997-)