The Origins of NORML: How Marijuana Reform Was Born

normlrallyI’m sometimes asked how a midwestern farm-boy ended up starting a marijuana smokers’ lobby. I had been raised in the 1950s in southern Illinois by southern Baptist parents, and there was nothing in that environment that would cause one to challenge authority or attempt to change the prevailing cultural values.

But then came the Vietnam War. Like many young men of my generation who came of age during that war, I had been radicalized by the war, or more specifically, by the threat of being drafted and sent to fight in Vietnam, a war few of us understood and even fewer wanted to die for (58,000 Americans eventually died in Vietnam). My primary focus at the time was avoiding the war in any way possible – a “draft dodger” was the derogatory term used for those of us who did not wish to serve.

Back then, before the draft lottery had even been established, all young men, by the time they were 18 years of age, were required to register for the draft, and unless they were a full-time student, were promptly inducted. So many of us stayed in school for as long as possible, but we remained subject to the draft until we turned 27 years of age. So when I graduated law school in 1968 at 25, I immediately received my draft notice, passed my physical, and was only two weeks away from my report date, when, with the help of some dedicated lawyers working with the National Lawyers’ Guild, I managed to get what was called a critical-skills deferment, that allowed me to spend my two years working at a presidential commission in Washington, DC, instead of getting shot in Vietnam.

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