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Heroes in Weed: Keith Stroup

02/21/2022 Culture & Entertainment
marijuana buds and leaves with handcuffs

With the widespread acceptance of medical marijuana in the past decade, it can be easy for us to take this acceptance for granted. With a majority of the US states having at least medical marijuana and the current congress is pushing for decriminalization, it’s not surprising when there are new relaxations with MJ here and there. But it’s important for us to look back and see where we came for and think on the pioneers that paved the way.

One of these pioneers is medical marijuana advocate, Keith Stroup. Keith’s been around marijuana advocacy for a very long time – since the 1960s – and is most well known for being the found of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML.KeithStroupNormalConferenceFall1998

Who’s Keith Stroup?

While at Georgetown Law School, Keith took his first puff of marijuana and has been a regular partaker for over 5 decades now. According to his LinkedIn profile, he’s been advocating for the legalization of MJ most of his professional life. He’s worked not only as an advocate but he’s also put his legal expertise to work in presenting cannabis users, farmers, growers and artists.

While at Georgetown Law, Mr. Stroup worked for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal agency that connected him with consumer activist Ralph Nader who inspired him to create a consumer advocacy group for marijuana users. In 1970, along with $5000 seed money given to him by Playboy’s Hugh Hefner, he created NORLM – the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The advocacy group has worked tirelessly since 1970 to reform laws for responsible and medical usage of cannabis. Fast forward 5 decades and this is the result of this (one of many) heroes in weed.

gavel with a book called consumer protection

Early Missteps

It’s not surprising that the found of the organization also served as the group’s executive director. However, this position was short lived. Though then-president Jimmy Carter favored relaxing of marijuana laws, his drug advisor, Peter Bourne, did not agree with NORML’s call for ending of pesticide spraying of marijuana crops. (Sidenote: Wow, this sounds very familiar with today’s political vs. safe farming discussion. But I digress …) As history goes, Stroup wanted to strike back and when a journalist as him about Mr. Bourne’s alleged cocaine use, Keith confirmed the rumor. NORML wasn’t happy with Keith’s snitching and eventually let Keith go.

Continuing to work for law reforms

From then on Keith Stroup continued to advocate for law reforms and continued to serve as legal counsel for growers, farmers, users and was also a lobbyist. He eventually was asked back to NORML in 1994 and worked as their executive director for the next 10 years. In 2005 he stepped aside, saying that it was time for a new generation of advocates to take the lead.

Having been called the “Mr. Marijuana” and “the first politician of pot”, Keith Stroup was instrumental in the early wins that legalized marijuana had. It might surprise people but some states like California, Colorado, Maine and Ohio began decriminalization of cannabis in the mid-70s!

woman holding marijuana leaf in front of face

Legalization or decriminalization

While the focus nowadays might be on full legalization, back in the 1970s the focus was far more on decriminalization. Back then the goal was for not locking up folks and allowing for private cultivation. Stroup was also in favor of taxation and having the revenue go to drug education and rehabilitation. As he said in the 1975 interview with Playboy magazine, We in the drug culture should admit there are casualties to drug use and we should take responsibility for them”. Needless to say, Mr. Stroup and his co-advocates were way ahead of their time!

Keith and the early NORML advocates were instrumental in decriminalizing cannabis possession and usage in Oregon (the first state to do so), followed by Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine and Ohio. It’s hard to imagine how challenging it must have been in those day with no internet, cell phone or social media to reach the legislators in these states to help change laws. But NORML members were spread across the country and able to mobilize quickly to appear at state government meetings and hearings – sometimes even flying doctors and research experts to do the speaking.

outline of oregon with marijuana leaf overlay

Legacy and beyond

We have a lot of gratitude to give to these earlier pioneers and heroes in weed. Thanks to Keith Stroup, NORML and their relentless pursuit of reasonable marijuana laws and legalizing medical marijuana, we were we are today. His legacy lives on through those of us who use marijuana and know the benefit from the wonder plant.

With the engine of change in full speed, it’s only a matter of time before the federal government also falls in step. However, with the current world issues (namely the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing crisis) legalization and even decriminalization may take some more time.

Thankfully we still have Keith Stroup and those who follow in his footsteps to keep pushing the issue. Hats off to these heroes in weed!

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