Term Paper: Civil Society Through Legalize Marijuana

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[. . .] From 1972 -- 1974, Amorphia began to founder, reportedly due to "trying to develop the first hemp rolling papers for U.S. distribution, a proposition that eventually swallowed up all available funds and sent Amorphia's legalization activities into a tailspin" (Sinclair, 2010). As Amorphia was failing, NORML was gathering strength, and in 1973 California NORML successfully lobbied for passage of the Moscone Act, eventually passed in 1975, and "decriminalizing" marijuana possession by reducing the criminal offense of possessing marijuana from a felony to a misdemeanor and imposing a maximum fine of $100 for possession of up to 1 ounce (Sinclair, 2010). Meanwhile, Amorphia's fortunes continued to drop and the organization was defunct and/or swallowed up by NORML in 1974 (Sinclair, 2010). Nevertheless, encouraged by the Moscone Act and by the election of Jimmy Carter to the U.S. Presidency in 1976, NORML continued to grow. Unfortunately, NORML and the entire movement endured a major blow when NORML's founder (Stroup) and Peter Bourne, the Carter Administration's drug policy director, were reported to have regularly snorted cocaine at White House parties (Sinclair, 2010). Widely spread by the media, the story is deemed to have set back the "legalize marijuana" movement and NORML for approximately 20 years because the hard drug image clashed with NORML's conservative, lawyerly approach to decriminalization and its portrayal of marijuana use as normal (Sinclair, 2010). During that relatively dormant period, NORML essentially referred people charged with marijuana possession to lawyers who could plea bargain for lesser pleas and punishments (Sinclair, 2010).

In 1996, the Medical Marijuana movement was born in California. Organized around the principle that medical patients who benefited from using marijuana should not be punished, Dennis Perrone in San Francisco and Scott Isler in Los Angeles mobilized AIDS patients and other medicinal marijuana users and led to the successful exemption of this population segment from prosecution and/or civil penalties for marijuana possession and use (Sinclair, 2010). NORML assisted in this effort and with the success came renewed vigor for NORML, which has since developed into chapters and lawyers in every State (NORML and The NORML Foundation, 2012). Energized by the success of the Medical Marijuana movement, NORML once again worked toward putting the legalization of marijuana on the California ballot. In 2010, California's 2nd Proposition 19 was on the ballot. Reportedly primarily bankrolled by Richard Lee, a medical marijuana seller in Oakland, CA, the 2010 Proposition 19 was aimed at legalizing recreational marijuana (Sanchez, 2010) and was defeated by a vote of 53.5% to 46.5% (California Choices, 2010). Despite the loss, the movement is encouraged by the millions of Californians who voted for Proposition 19 and has continued to mobilize resources and supporters in every State to eventually decriminalize the recreational use of marijuana (NORML and The NORML Foundation, 2012).

Application of Research to NORML

This work applies concepts of civil society and of a collective action group as a microcosm of civil society to NORML, an organization dedicated to the legalization of Marijuana in the United States. Applying civil society collective action group concepts to a specific organization "from the outside looking in" is difficult because groups are not necessarily transparent enough for complete review by a nonmember. Nevertheless, at least some of the concepts of civil society and collection action group dynamics can be applied to the "Legalize Marijuana" movement and NORML. Applying sociological group concepts to NORML, the group is clearly on the rise at this point in its history, has significantly contributed to social capital through its successful association with medical marijuana groups, for example, and accurately reflects accepted research on collective action frames. Though neither of California's Prop 19's passed, NORML has effectively "worked" the community and garnered millions of supporters who will form a basis for NORM's inevitable third California Prop 19.

NORML's history and current status dovetail with collective action framing and frames, one of the three central group dynamics, because it uses: action, by educating, funding, lobbying and legally promoting; process, because it has evolved from essentially one or more attorney's based in Washington, D.C. To a nationwide movement with chapters and attorneys in every State; agency, because its work as evolved from a conservative "decriminalization" organization to a nationwide movement that has supported the use of medical marijuana and recreational marijuana; contentious because it has consistently challenged the existing frame that marijuana use is abnormal and harmful. NORML's frames are action-oriented meanings and beliefs in the benefits of legalized marijuana, which have legitimized its efforts to legalize marijuana in every State. In supporting marijuana's legalization through its frame articulation, NORML has given new vision, viewpoint and interpretation of the marijuana and the legalization movement. Furthermore, NORML's frame amplification has emphasized the issues, events or beliefs regarding marijuana while generating, elaborating and diffusing its frames by: discursive processes, in that its members widely communicate through the website and publications, about its history and efforts to legalize marijuana; strategic processes by continually seeking through its website and publications to gain new members and funding; contested processes, by facing conflicts internally (for example, with the cocaine scandal involving its founder and devastating its power for 2 decades), and externally against "No-to-19" groups that opposed both of California's Proposition 19's. NORML has also engaged in frame diffusion throughout its history, both by strategic selection in teaming with Amorphia for California's first Proposition 19, and by strategic fitting in the multi-state balloting initiatives it sponsors.

NORML has also successfully negotiated political opportunity processes, the 2nd central group dynamic. Working within the socio-cultural contextual factors that facilitate and constrain its framing processes, NORML has both benefitted and been constrained. It has both benefited from political opportunity, for example, in its connection with the Carter Administration, and been constrained by political forces that have opposed its Prop 19 work and also widely disseminated and criticized its founder's cocaine abuse.. NORML has both benefitted and been constrained by cultural opportunities and constraints by drawing meaning from, for example, values in championing medical marijuana users, and from values that militate against the use of recreational marijuana as a "gateway" drug to harder substances. NORML has also benefitted and been constrained by audience effects in that NORML tailored its message to California voters but has been constrained by criticism of its founder's cocaine use in the face of its message that marijuana use is normal and does not lead to harder drugs. NORML's framing also has implications and consequences for its processes and outcomes in that NORML has identified political opportunities for change of the marijuana laws, that its collective identity and individual members' identities have been "enlarged" by its nationwide work, and that it has framed and reframed the outcomes of its California Prop 19 work by aiming for passage of the Proposition, then calling the voting percentages in losing initiatives successful due to the number of people voting for the propositions.

Resource mobilization, the 3rd central group dynamic, may well be NORML's greatest achievement. The organization has successfully engaged in extensive resource mobilization, assessing societal support and constraints, and mustering grass roots, legal, medical, lobbying and private funds and manpower to promote pro-marijuana propositions in all states. In addition, when necessary, NORML joined forces with Amorphia, the Medical Marijuana movement and the Prop-19 movements to promote their common agendas. In addition, NORML has used the media and preexisting networks of Washington attorneys, for example, to foster its growth and structure. Yet another reason for NORML's success in resource mobilization is the fact that the group has not relied on isolated constituents or funding; rather, NORML reaches out across the nation to every economic strata for resources, which has allowed the group to flourish nationally. Furthermore, while there are other pro-marijuana movements, NORML is an older, established organization with a large income flow and large groups of staff members who are professionals, such as doctors and lawyers.

Conclusion

Collective action groups have garnered considerable interest by social researchers due to the groups' reflection of processes in civil society and unique use of those processes. Researchers have found that a group's framing processes, resource mobilization and political opportunities processes are essential dynamics of the group. Through complex, ideally adaptable and sometimes overlapping processes, these groups are born, flourish, and sometimes necessarily survive internal and external challenges by framing and reframing themselves, mobilizing resources for their survival and their work, and benefitting/suffering from political processes. NORML, the national association devoted to the legalization of marijuana, has successfully followed the necessary steps for effective collective action groups and has consequently adapted, expanded and survived difficulties to achieve some goals and redefine others. As a result of NORML's successful group processes, it is currently a nationally powerful and effective force.

Works Cited

Arat, Y. (1994). Toward a democratic society: The women's movement in Turkey in the 1980s. Womenh's Studies Int. Forum, 17(2/3), 241-248.

Benford, R.D., & Snow, D.A. (2000). Framing processes and social movements: An overview and assessment. Annual Review of Sociology,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Civil Society Through Legalize Marijuana.  (2012, June 13).  Retrieved July 17, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/civil-society-legalize-marijuana/3872967

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"Civil Society Through Legalize Marijuana."  13 June 2012.  Web.  17 July 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/civil-society-legalize-marijuana/3872967>.

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"Civil Society Through Legalize Marijuana."  Essaytown.com.  June 13, 2012.  Accessed July 17, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/civil-society-legalize-marijuana/3872967.