After 14 years serving as Deputy Director of NORML under three different Executive Directors, followed by 11 years as Executive Director, Allen F. St. Pierre has tendered his resignation to the NORML board of directors, effective July 15th. St. Pierre, a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, had come to Washington, DC a quarter of a century ago with the intent of going to law school, but he found a job with NORML and never left. We are all indebted to St. Pierre for his long and valuable service to the organization, helping lead the organization and the legalization movement through some difficult times to the glorious days of legalization we are currently experiencing.
NORML was founded in late 1970 to represent the interests of consumers, and today the NORML brand is clearly the best-known brand, along with High Times, in the legalization movement. And St. Pierre’s leadership has contributed greatly to that exceptional reputation. He is a tireless worker who has been the public face of NORML since 2005, having given thousands of media interviews, both large and small.
As Leafly deputy editor Bruce Barcott said of St. Pierre’s value to the legalization movement, “During his quarter-century at NORML, St. Pierre would gladly return anybody’s phone call, no matter if you were a rookie reporter, expert grower, angry NORML chapter head, or confused member of Congress. Despite the thrashing cannabis took on Capitol Hill, he always remained upbeat. His wry sense of humor and his ability to laugh at the absurdity of America’s cannabis laws and taboos weren’t just an unexpected balm; they were a model of sanity for advocates around the country.”
A Little NORML History
I first met St. Pierre in 1994, when the NORML board was going through a periodic crisis and Dr. Lester Grinspoon at Harvard, the board Chair, had been asked to establish a new board of directors, and Dr. Grinspoon invited me to rejoin the board. I had founded the organization in 1970 and headed the organization through the 1970s. I had managed first to befriend the administration of President Jimmy Carter, who favored decriminalizing minor marijuana offenses (the recommendation of the Marijuana Commission), and then to burn those bridges over the issue of the government’s spraying of paraquat (a deadly pesticide) on marijuana along the US/Mexican border, a practice we feared was poisoning unwitting marijuana smokers. In the end, I became embroiled in a scandal involving the president’s drug advisor, Dr. Peter Bourne, that cost Dr. Bourne his job, and I was forced to step aside from NORML.
I did other public-interest work for several years, including lobbying for family farmers on Capitol Hill and serving as Executive Director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDL). Those were all exciting challenges, but eventually, when that call came from Dr. Grinspoon inviting me back on the NORML board, I was delighted to return to my old organization. And shortly thereafter I was asked to once again serve as Executive Director of the organization for another decade.
During that decade, Allen St. Pierre, who had played a major role in keeping NORML alive as an organization during the difficult political phase when public support for legalization was sagging, served as my deputy and was an integral part of every major decision and project NORML undertook during those years.
St. Pierre Takes Over in 2005
When the time came for me to step aside (again) at the end of 2004, I had no doubt that St. Pierre was the individual best equipped to take over the reins of the organization, which he assumed on Jan. 1, 2005, a position he held for the last 11-plus years. And during that time he oversaw all sorts of conflicts over priorities and strategies for the legalization movement, including most importantly the inevitable tension between those who use marijuana as a medicine, and those of us who smoke recreationally. Like all other drug law reform organizations, NORML had some supporters who preferred we focus primarily on the medical side of the issue, as well as those of us who felt out goal should always remain the full legalization of marijuana for all adults, regardless of why one smokes.
When we win a medical use bill, we win only the right to smoke marijuana for specific ailments if a physician says we are sick. That is crucial for many seriously ill patients, but the vast majority of marijuana smokers are not sick. We smoke because we enjoy it. And medical use laws do nothing to protect recreational users from arrest and jail. When we win full legalization, we expand personal freedom — the right to smoke marijuana free from government interference, regardless of why we smoke.
The success we have had by fully legalizing marijuana in four states and the district of Columbia since 2012, and the likelihood that we will add four or five additional states to the list of fully legalized jurisdictions this November, confirms the feasibility of the strategy that St. Pierre and NORML have pursued all these years. We are gradually restoring a measure of personal freedom to millions of responsible marijuana smokers all across this land.
St. Pierre, who at 50 is a new father, now begins a new phase of his life, and we all wish him well and much success. He will remain on the NORML board of directors, continuing to share his insight and experience, and help keep the organization moving forward in an effective manner.
And for now, all of us at NORML, and those millions of smokers out there who look to NORML to lead the charge to legalization in their states, owe a debt of gratitude to Allen St. Pierre for his dedication and leadership for the last 25 years at NORML.
Thanks Allen for being a valued friend and colleague for all these years.
The Board of Directors of NORML has received the resignation of Allen St. Pierre as Executive Director of the organization, effective as of July 15th. The board wishes to commend Allen for his long and dedicated service to the organization. St. Pierre will retain his board seat.
The Board has established a Search Committee to find a
replacement for Mr. St. Pierre, and has appointed Board Member Randy Quast as Acting Executive Director.
These past few days have truly been a sad time for most Americans, as we witnessed two more unjustified civilian killings by the police, raising obvious issues of racial bias; followed by the tragedy in Dallas in which five police officers were killed by a sniper, apparently in response to the aforementioned civilian killings.
A cycle of unjustified killings by police followed by unjustified killing of police. Regardless of your political persuasion, it is seriously disturbing that these incidents appear to be occurring more frequently, not less.
Anyone watching cable news could be excused for thinking the country is coming apart at the seams; 24-hour coverage of the carnage leaves the impression that none of us are safe, wherever we live or work. But we must not permit those who would resort to violence to define who we are.
Despite our problems, the reality is far less frightening. Yes, these latest incidents surely underscore the unresolved tensions between the police and many in the minority communities; and the unresolved racism that permeates much of society.
But in truth, most of us live good, productive and peaceful lives, largely free from violence; and we do our best to contribute to a society that treats all individuals, regardless of race, in a fair and equal manner. We still have a great distance to travel to achieve these lofty goals, but the great majority of Americans are committed to making that journey.
I acknowledge this column, unlike my usual columns, has little to do with legalizing marijuana. And that is purposeful.
Sometimes, when tragic events occur, we must set aside our personal crusades for a brief respite, while we join our fellow citizens in expressing our common grief and our common commitment to stop this madness. Our daily work routine, regardless of how important we may think it is, pales in comparison to these larger, overriding issues of peace and justice.
This is one of those times.
Yes, it is important that we end marijuana prohibition and stop the senseless arrest of marijuana smokers. And we will continue to move legalization forward.
But for today, let’s (symbolically) join hands with our fellow citizens in Dallas and Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights, MN, and all across this country, and acknowledge our role in the larger society, and our obligation to work for the just society we all want.
As Rodney King famously said, “Can’t we all just get along?”