Keith Stroup founded the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in Washington, DC in 1970 and has been a champion for change ever since. As a public interest attorney, Stroup has represented the interests of criminal defense attorneys, family farmers and artists, and cannabis smokers.
According to Stroup, he smoked his first joint as a college freshman at Georgetown Law School in 1965 on a ski trip and has been a regular poker ever since.
After graduating from law school in 1968, Stroup began working for the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission. Through this network, he connected with legendary consumer activist Ralph Nader, the inspiration for Stroup to create a consumer group for cannabis users. He pulled together some friends and colleagues who held similar pro-cannabis and anti-war interests and founded NORML in 1970 using $5,000 in seed money from Hugh Hefner and the Playboy Foundation.
The partnership with Playboy would flourish, and for nearly a decade, Hefner provided NORML with $100,000 annual funding and two full-page ads in his magazine a year. This support helped Stroup and his peers at NORML raise donations and develop a membership base of supporters who would lobby elected officials and form state and local NORML groups.
Stroup served as executive director of NORML until 1979, during which time 11 states passed cannabis decriminalization laws. A disagreement with Peter Bourne, Special Assistant to President Jimmy Carter for Health Issues and Director of the Office of Drug Abuse Policy, led to his termination.
In 1994, Stroup returned to the NORML board of directors, and when Executive Director Richard Cowan stepped aside in 1995, Stroup was rehired as executive director. He held the position for the next decade, serving as the primary spokesperson for cannabis activists. Stroup eventually stepped down from the role for good in 2005, but he remains an active player within NORML and the larger legalization debate, serving as legal counsel.
Stroup’s 2013 book on the history of NORML—It’s NORML To Smoke Pot: The 40-Year Fight For Marijuana Smokers’ Rights—examines the politics, tactics and significant figures in the legalization debate during the previous four decades.
This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.