It’s always a good thing when a new cannabis law reform launches, the more organisations out there making waves the better. The latest campaign to launch – NORML UK – has its roots in the troubles at CLEAR earlier this year, indeed many of the founder members of NORML UK were very deeply involved in all the nastiness that went down, you can read about it here if you’re really interested.

NORML UK is the result of a group of people getting together to organise what they see as a campaign more in tune with the “cannabis community”, run on what they describe as “democratic” lines, free of what one of them desrcibed as the” tyranny” a leader would impose.

NORML – The National Organisation for the Reform of the Marijuana Laws –  is an American cannabis law reform outfit which has branched out into several countries around the world, so the name is now somewhat wrong, being as it is an international organisation and no longer just (American) “national”. It also uses the word “Marijuana”, meaning cannabis, so it does seem a sightly strange choice of name to adopt for a new UK campaign, but the acronym “NORML” is quite good and it may be that having an association with the long-established American organisation will prove useful, only time will tell on that one.

So what of the new “NORML UK”? It actually launched on Facebook a month or so ago and got off to something of a bad start in my books. It was pretty obvious that anyone involved in the organisation felt free to post whatever they liked under the NORML UK banner. As a result of a couple of posts on their Facebook page, issues which have been resolved, I tried to find out the name of the person authorised to speak on behalf of NORML UK who would be the point of contact for any formal dealings. It turns out there isn’t anyone actually “in charge” and no specific person to act as spokesman. After some time, the situation was explained to me by one of the “board members”

If you send us an email asking us our opinion on something, then whoever is monitoring the inbox that day will either reply in accordance with our principles and precedents, or forward it to someone more competent to reply. If it is outside that, they will consult with either a few or all other members depending on the complexity of your request. The only spokesman will be whoever is reading the email that day. We’ve got people assigned to specific areas, but they’re not all people who want to answer emails.

So getting a quick reaction out of NORML UK is going to be difficult, and holding anyone accountable next to impossible, a bureaucratic  structure like that is going to make policy development pretty difficult, indeed it makes the structure of the old LCA look positively streamlined  in comparison.

The website launched recently and can be seen here NORML UK  and it is distinctly underwhelming to be brutally honest, content is minimal and it was clearly written by committee.

The front page is very neat, a wordpress (?) copy of the American original in basic appearance. Of course it features one of those sliders which are turning up on just about every website these days, with some tidy graphics pointing to sections of the site also linked to by buttons along the top. Below this is are links to “latest news” and “Most popular”, which given the lack of content at the moment are pretty similar.

To the right is a sidebar that appears on every page containing a subscription form and below that, under the heading “We want change”, links to individual parts of the charter, more about that later. Below that links to the Facebook page.

It isn’t being unkind to describe the front page as “minimal” to be honest, but what of the site content?

The buttons along the top link to:

“Home” – the front page,

“About” – the mission statement

NORML UK seeks to gain recognition for the rights of people to peacefully pursue activities relating to cannabis without unwarranted intervention by the authorities

As a brief summary of intent, that’s not bad. As we will see though, they do accept there will be quite a lot of intervention by the authorities and we are not told what sort of interventions NORML UK considers “warranted”. We are told that

Our founding member (sic) are a diverse group of people from all walks of life who have one thing in common: passion for individual freedom, responsibility, and liberty.

Freedom and liberty as two distinct things is an interesting concept. It’s obvious though that the thrust of NORML UK isn’t about controlling the cannabis trade, supporting proper regulation over the supply side or anything like that, in that respect it is very much back to the old LCA and is unlikely to offer much for people who don’t use cannabis but do oppose prohibition.

There is then a section on the medical campaign, which is fair enough and then a section on “The right to choose”, a phrase right out of the old LCA. They do – almost – make the point that prohibition is not drug control

The notion of ‘controlled drugs’ is a misleading if not harmful one to say the least.

By leaving the ‘controlled drugs’ market in the hands of criminal gangs we not only enrich and empower dangerous criminals, we also leave young people vulnerable to misinformation and exploitation.

But that seems to be as far as they go regarding the sort of drug control they would like to see, instead NORML UK seems to regard itself as a general drug law reform group, fighting for the rights of all drug users, stating

 We advocate an evidence-based and liberty-informed approach to the regulation of the use of all such substances, including cannabis.

That opens up a minefield of issues which frankly can only distract from the core aims.

Also within this section is an outline of the founding members and their roles within the organisation, so we can see that while there is no spoke person, there is a “Political director” and an “outreach director”. There is also a page featuring “Honorary members”, which so far only features Jeff Ditchfield and Howard Marks.

“Learning zone” – It’s not really obvious what the focus of this section is

There are just a handful of posts so far, one of which claims “Cannabis Cuts Lung Cancer Tumor Growth In Half, Study Shows”, which is actually a misleading headline as the study the report links to actually shows that THC, not cannabis as such, has this effect. They really should be more careful with their writing to be fair.

Another post on the page about cannabis coffeeshops features two Youtube videos that don’t play.

At time of writing nothing has been added to this section for the past two weeks.

“Forum” – a place for discussion at some time in the future. From experience it takes time to grow a forum, it’s probably a good idea to leave it off the site for a while – the more so seeing as they have an active Facebook page. Indeed, Facebook has all but destroyed many forums around the net over the past couple of years, so it’s questionable if it’s worth having one at all and having a dead forum sort of gives the impression of a dead site.

“Charter” – which is a statement of basic aims, which really should belong in the “About” section

The NORML UK charter is another good example of something written by committee. For example the Freedom charter states

We assert the right to refuse any form of drug testing except where an impairment assessment is necessary to prevent harm to others.

That sounds good but as anyone who’s been involved in this debate for any length of time will know, this is a minefield. They are specifically talking about drug testing here, not impairment testing such as walking a straight line or judging the passing of time. The issue we will be facing soon in relation to driving, for example, will test this statement severely. Also, what do they mean by “prevent harm to others”? Does this include youth workers, teachers and so on? Who defines what “prevent harm to others” actually means?

The “Regulation charter” states

Persons of appropriate age should be entitled to access a range of quality and readily identifiable cannabis products of all types from specific retail outlets and community projects. Commercial enterprises ought to be licensed and pay tax or duties as determined by government.

So what is an “appropriate age” in the view of NORML UK? What do they mean by “readily identifiable cannabis products”? Are they proposing regulation of strength and potency, some form of grading? How would a licencing system work? Are we talking about a similar regime to the one that applies to alcohol, with cannabis “pubs”? These are all issues that have proven to be very divisive in the law reform movement over the years, they are going to have to be more specific than that.

“Blog” – a blog, which seems to be a random collection of personal opinion, reviews and news commentary.

And finally there is

“Join” – a way for you to send them money. You can join for £15 a year, or £45 if you like (and you get a free T shirt, stickers, wrist band and a jar if you pay the extra). Students, OAP, or people on benefits pay £7.50

Nowhere in all this does it tell you how to join the board though, are there to be elections, annual meetings and so on, or is it a closed group of friends unwilling or unable to accept new people?

The website is very thin on detail, which is probably due to the fact that these issues haven’t been properly thought through yet, but any campaign that wants to be taken seriously really does have to flesh its case out a bit better.

How it will respond to press requests for policy statements isn’t at all clear given the collective structure outlined above, inquiries from the press need a rapid response from a named individual and they just don’t seem set up to provide that.

I suspect NORML UK will evolve  fairly rapidly, it’ll have to if it wants to be taken seriously.

So welcome to the world of cannabis law reform campaigning for NORML UK. Let’s see what you can do for the cause.


Edited Friday 29th June to add the NORML UK constitution is on the site, although it’s not easy to find. They have used the American English term “Bylaws” (which means something different over here) and is linked from the bottom of the page. Look carefully and you’ll find it.

Also the comments that follow have been dominated by people attacking CLEAR, rather than discussing the real content of this blog. I’ll leave the comments – some of which have come from NORML UK board members – online as a record, be warned some are extremely offensive. I have deleted several posts which I considered libelous.