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Keith Stroup

50 Years NORML



In the cannabis community, Keith Stroup is a legend. He is the founder of the longest standing consumer advocacy group in the nation, NORML – the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. In 2020, NORML celebrates 50 years as an organization. Stroup’s long hair is reminiscent of his past, present, and future. Now, at age 75, he has fought for the freedom of cannabis longer than many staking claims in this industry have been alive. GRAM sat down with Stroup to hear how it all started, the struggles of legalization, his personal journey with the plant, and where he thinks cannabis laws are headed in the future. 

In his third year of law school at Georgetown University, Stroup was offered a job serving on the National Commission for Product Safety. Two years went by and Stroup worked alongside Ralph Nader. He recalls, “It was at this time, I really began to learn about public interest law. In the process of working at the commission, I became enamored of the concept of using your law degree to make an impact on public policy.” 

Two people greatly shaped and influenced Keith Stroup in 1970. First Ralph Nader, “He didn’t smoke marijuana, all the young aids that worked for him, known as ‘Nader’s Raiders’ all consumed like I did. Ralph was a straight guy, but I was influenced by him using his law degree to directly affect public policy. Secondly, I read a book about that time by Ramsey Clark called “Crime in America.” He had recently retired as the US Attorney General, and I greatly admired him. He was here in Washington and he proposed legalizing marijuana and in time he became an antiwar activist. I admired Ramsey enormously from a distance,” Stroup explains. 

Stroup’s personal opinion of politics had become somewhat radicalized due to the antiwar movement during the Vietnam war. He tells us, “I don’t think I would have ever had any interest in starting a public interest group to support marijuana, but the antiwar movement showed me that marijuana was seen as a symbol of resistance—it was a way to say, not only do we not like your war in Vietnam, there are a lot of other things in current policy that we don’t agree with.” By now Stroup was 27 and past the drafting age. He knew he wanted to do something in public interest law. He began to wonder if he wanted to use his law degree to develop a program to legalize marijuana. He sat down with a few friends and began to create the concept for an organization that could accomplish such a task. In late 1970, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws was formed. 

Stroup began contacting mutual friends in an effort to contact Ramsey. Stroup tells us, “I was nervous I was making a damaging career decision by starting NORML. I finally had my opportunity to sit down with him, and he told me two things: ‘Do it, it’s important, someone has to do it so don’t hesitate, just move forward. Second, do it now when you are young so if it doesn’t work out, you can pick yourself up and start over, you can still have a fulfilled life.’ We ended up forming a tight relationship, and Ramsey served on the Board of Directors for NORML for the first decade we were in operation.”

In late 1970, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws was formed.

One of the other ways Ramsey would influence Stroup was by the connections and introductions that he would receive. Stroup was asked if he had reached out to the Playboy Foundation to try and receive funding. Stroup exclaims, “Now I knew what Playboy was. Any young man my age hid that magazine under their mattress but I had never heard of this foundation.” Before Stroup reached out to the foundation, he was very nervous about taking money from them, so he asked Ramsey his opinion about using their funding. His answer helped Stroup make the right decision. “Ramsey explained to me that when he traveled around the country speaking and giving lectures, ‘almost never does someone ask me a question based on a book I have written, but almost every time someone asks questions to me because of the interview I did in Playboy magazine.’” Stroup knew what he needed to do.

Playboy ended up being the primary source of funding for NORML during the 1970’s. The first donation was the modest amount of five thousand dollars. Stroup could tell they really believed in what they were trying to do. The foundation told Stroup to take the money and show them what he could do. Within a year, the foundation committed to $100,000 a year and two full page ads for the organization to seek public support. 

NORML’s goal has always been the same, marijuana smokers should be treated fairly in all aspects of their lives. The 70’s were highly influenced by the marijuana commission established as a provision for the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. In the words of Stroup, “This was a terrible act and is to this day.” 

The latter half of the 70’s was spent traveling around the country providing expert testimony in decriminalization cases. “In 1973, Oregon was the first to adopt, and then by 1978, we had a total of 11 states that had decriminalized marijuana. At that point, we thought we were well on our way to nationwide decriminalization. We underestimated the reality that public opinion sometimes changes direction,” said Stroup. According to Gallup during their first poll in 1969, 88% of the public were opposed to marijuana policy. “I think we may have made it to 24% approval by 1977, and then it started to go down again just a point or two a year.”

Without question, I roll and smoke joints.

The 80’s brought the Reagans and the Just Say No program. Stroup tell us, “The focus became ‘what will happen to the children?’ And, that if it’s not good for children, then it is certainly not good for adults. Now if you think about that, it’s absurd. There are things that are appropriate for adults that are not appropriate for children.”

For 18 years, no laws were changed—not a single statewide victory. The next big moment for marijuana policy came in 1996. That victory was the medical use of cannabis in California. During those 18 years of inactivity, the public came out of the fog about the medical possibilities of marijuana. “Part of this was due to the AIDS epidemic. People were becoming more vocal that marijuana was helping them, then the focus became the medical side. Once California did this voter initiative, we were able to start picking up other states. The 90’s finally showed the uptick in support, and it has only continued,” said Stroup.

“All of our early progress was by voters. By the 2000’s, we began seeing a change legislatively as well. Citizens can draft what you feel to be a perfect bill. When you are dealing with the legislature you can create something unique. However, 26 states do not offer voter initiatives. Those states still do policy the old fashioned way.”

Things really started moving in 2012. Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21. Policies went into effect by January 1, 2014. Stroup said, “As we near the end of this decade, we now have enough public support that we are starting to pass laws through legislature in places like Vermont and Illinois, and we are close in New Jersey and New York. This decade is when we finally reached, 5 national polls where 65-68% of Americans now want to fully legalize cannabis. We now enjoy the support of 2 out of 3 Americans. 50% have smoked at some point in their lives, but only about 14% are actual users. We are winning this not because of the marijuana smokers but because we have won the hearts and minds of nonconsumers as well.”

In the fifty year history of the organization the ideals of NORML have not changed. 

Stroup tells us, “We were founded as a consumer lobby. What has changed is the consumer side of the issue. For example, making sure products are tested; we have always wanted to make sure the products were safe and secure to use. Years ago, before it was no longer a crime, the idea of testing was outlandish. Criminal prohibition needed to change first. Now, the need for social clubs is a thing. We also want to protect workers’ rights and child custody issues and DUI laws are now an issue too.” 

Stroup continues, “I believe that we are still working through reefer madness, the repercussions of 80 years of government propaganda and exaggerations. My contemporaries and I were taught it was an evil drug. We were taught the gateway concept. Although there is less and less of that every year, there will still be members of the legislature that continue to oppose initiatives, and their reasons are still antiquated. 

The re-education is necessary. It’s not that we have better arguments, we have better data, and we have now outlived our opponents.”

Stroup’s personal journey with cannabis is a budding fifty plus year relationship. As the aging process comes into play, his use of the plant continues day to day. In addition to the recreational desire to consume, it has also provided Stroup alleviation from an epileptic condition for many years. “I had my first seizure at the age of 65, one of the things that cannabis has always been known for is an anti-seizure medicine. So I called my friend and colleague, Dr. Greenspoon, at Harvard and said, ‘I can’t figure out what is happening.’ He said to me, ‘You would have been having seizures all of your life, but you’ve been taking the strongest anti-seizure medicine known to man.’”

This decade is when we finally reached, 5 national polls where 65-68% of Americans now want to fully legalize cannabis.

“As you get older you have more aches and pains, and anyone can imagine how comforting the casual use of marijuana can be if you are an older person. If you have a doctor trying to make you take 5 or 6 pills a day and all of the pills have different side effects. Then there is a plant that can help so much, without the side effects. But even more so, it can take an ordinary experience like walking the dog or playing a round of golf and turn it into an extraordinary experience. It’s no longer just ordinary. It enhances the quality of life and makes the free time of retirement far more enriching and rewarding than it would otherwise be.” 

Everyone has a preferred method of consumption and for Stroup it has always been joints. He tells us, “Without question, I roll and smoke joints, I don’t use a pipe, vape, or shatter, or anything like that, and that is my own personal preference. I love cleaning the marijuana by hand. I still roll torpedo shaped joints like my friend Willy Nelson. I like the feel of it on my lips. For me, flower is the way to use marijuana. For me, it is the healthiest way to just roll the joints. I will use topicals too. If I scratch my arm or something, that is what I reach for in my medicine cabinet.”

Stroup leaves us with his advice to future cannabis consumers, advocates, and activists,

“It is terribly important we understand our place in the universe and that we understand what this fight is all about. It is really only about personal freedom. All people who are active in this journey, keep that in mind. Prohibition has been ingrained in our lives; it’s not just a matter of do we consider marijuana consumers criminals. Now, it’s whether or not we treat them fairly in all aspects of their lives. Most individuals do not want the government deciding. Without question, the most fortunate thing I ever did was to get caught up in the antiwar movement and become radicalized so that my mind was open to the concept of trying to legalize marijuana.”

We are winning this
not because of the marijuana smokers but because we have won the hearts and minds of nonconsumers as well.


Keeping Love + Faith Alive

After losing 36 to Covid-19



What started as a “Shelter in Place” check-in with friends Barbara and Daniel Melvin, grew into this article about a family with extreme losses to COVID-19. Barb first told me they had lost 12 family members and friends from COVID-19 in mid-April. By the end of April, the number had grown to 33. The current count is 40 family and friends lost to COVID-19 as of May 18, 2020.

Daniel and Barbara lived in Detroit before relocating to Naples, Florida, in 2001. Barbara has worked in banking for 30 years and is currently a Vice President at First Florida Integrity Bank. Dan is a multi-talented singer, radio personality, and entrepreneur. They are two of the happiest, kindest, giving, and loving people you could be lucky enough to know.

Together, they have worked to give back to their community through philanthropic endeavors, as well as volunteering on numerous nonprofit boards. They celebrate their mutual birthdays, Sept 6 & 10 by holding an annual event called “Party Hearty for Charity,” formerly known as “Party with a Purpose,” their nonprofit organization., They have raised over $90K in the past six years to help support several nonprofit organizations in SouthWest FL.

Barb says, “The coronavirus is real. I first heard about it in March, but like everyone else, we didn’t understand it, and at that time, we didn’t personally know anyone that was sick from it. Then, as time went on, we started to hear about people that we knew who were dying. My husband and I hated to wake up and look at Facebook because it seemed every time we checked someone close to us or someone we knew had died.”

Barbara tells us, some of the churches in Detroit continued to hold services, after the recommendation not to gather in large numbers. The members met to seek comfort in the face of the pandemic. Barbara believes that was crucial for most of the people she knows who were infected and died.

How could one couple know so many people who have passed from COVID-19? They are an extensive close-knit family, descendants of Tom and Etta Rhoades, born slaves. Tom and Etta’s dreams were to keep their descendants together spiritually, in harmony, and in brotherly love. They have honored their ancestors by gathering each year, for 46 years, for a three-day family reunion. Friday is meet and greet (you would need it with over 200 attending). Saturday is picnic time, complete with a softball game between the North and the South. Sunday, everyone goes to a local church, followed by a family dinner. With all those family members together, not an argument or fight ever. Until 2020, when the pandemic hit the family, and they canceled the family reunion.

Barbara shares with us information on a few of those they have lost. “My aunt, Mary Rhoades, died on April 22, 2020, she was 97 years old. She was in good health, and we were praying she made it to 100.” Several of her siblings had achieved that milestone, and she was reasonably healthy for 97 years of age so that expectation was a real one. “Aunt Mary became infected in early April; two weeks later, she was gone. She went to the hospital in Philadelphia for minor surgery, and we believe she was infected there. What hurts the most is she died alone; no family or friends could visit her.”

“Jason Hargrove was a close friend of ours. He was the bus driver who went on Facebook Live to talk about a woman coughing on his bus without covering her mouth. Two weeks later, he was diagnosed with the coronavirus, and he died shortly thereafter. His death was not in vain as the Detroit Department of Transportation made many changes to enhance the safety of their drivers. Jason was a Deacon at my church.”

Barbara continues, “Another close friend of ours was Larry Griffin. He died on April 16. He sang in my husband’s band called “In Full Effect” when they were performing in Detroit. He continued to sing in a new band called “Serieux,” who performed mostly in Detroit but also in Las Vegas. He had a beautiful voice and some great dance moves. He was so healthy until he caught the virus, and, in weeks, he was gone.”

“It spread so much faster in the churches. Many Pastors we knew caught the virus and were gone. They were older and many had health issues, when the virus attacked them they could not fight it off. These 4 Pastors were all a part of the Church of God In Christ (COGIC). Many had large congregations and were still holding services after the call for social distancing. These great men are a true loss for the COGIC community.”

“On April 23, we lost a very dear friend of mine, Lynn Raimey. I called her my sister as her father was the Pastor of my church in Detroit. Her family took me in and treated me like family when I first moved to Detroit and didn’t know anyone. She had many health issues, so when she was infected by the virus, it killed her very quickly.”

“Although we have lost many family, friends, and associates, we know God is good, and he continues to show us favor even through the midst of this storm. Even though we know of many deaths, we also know of many survivors and to that we are grateful. These people are given a second chance so their test can become their testimony. I know of an entire household, The Washington family of Detroit, who are survivors. Pastor Jamonty, his wife Tamela and their daughter Ariel Washington all recovered and are doing well.”

Barb specifically finds strength in the Beatitudes; “Jesus said in Matthew 5:4, Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. It is during these tough times of losing loveda ones that I can refer to scripture to give me the comfort I and my family needs. The question is have you ever suffered? Please know that we all have. But I have come to know through leaning on God and his word, he meets me at my very point of need. As believers, the Bible speaks about plagues and famine and death, and its teachings prepare us for what life has to offer. Oftentimes we don’t understand the current situations, but when we look back, we realize this had to happen.”

As of May 5, 2020, there have been over 72,000 deaths in the United States, and over 257,000 deaths Worldwide. It is critical to find strength either within or in a higher power, focus on the positive, and stay connected.

It is GRAM’s honor to recognize this incredible family.

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.

In Memoriam

Family & Friends Lost to Covid-19 (35 as of 5/5/20)

Mary R. – PA

Jason H. – MI

Rachelle Lynn R. – MI

Rev. O’Neil S. – MI

Gerald H. – MI

Curtis H. – MI

Larry G. – MI

Rosalind C. – MI

Rev. Gerald G. – VA

Skylar H. – MI

Rev. David F. – MI 

Laneeka B. – MI

Ejuan W. – MI

Darnielita B. – MI

Bishop Phillip B. – MI

Bishop Robert S. – MI

Bishop Robert H. – MI

Tatia W. – MI

Rev. Lonie J. – MI

Carrie W. – MI

Helena J. – VA

James J. – VA

Robert J. – VA

Annette W. – NY

Helen L. – MD

Walter H. – DC

Carol T. – DE

Benjamin T. – DC

William B. – KY

Daniel R. – TX

Karen S. – NC

Denise B. – NC

Doris M. – OH

Trina D. – MI

Earl T. – VA

Nathaniel S. – MI

Lonnie L. – MI

Nathaniel S. Sr. – MI

Nathaniel S. Jr. – MI

Angel R. – IL

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Americans for Safe Access + Covid



Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with the mission of ensuring safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research. The organization began in 2002 and has been helping educate people, change laws, and get more research out there about the therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis. “We also care about safety, and we want to make sure patients are using cannabis safely and legally throughout the United States,” explains Debbie Churgai, Interim Director for ASA. 

GRAM sat down with Churgai to discuss how they are handling COVID-19 for patients throughout the U.S. She tells us, “When it first started, patients were really concerned about there being a lack of access to their medicine. So, one of the first things we did was host a stakeholders call. We contacted a bunch of people: patients, industry professionals, medical professionals, legal professionals, and within two hours, 15-20 people were on the phone strategizing. From that phone call, we then created a letter that we sent to Governors, medical cannabis commissions, and health departments urging them to keep medical cannabis businesses as essential, not just the dispensary but also cultivation and manufacturers so that there was no stop in production or supply chain.”

“It also meant, we needed to make sure patients were receiving safe products, that employees were also being kept safe. Then we started thinking about delivery for states that did not have that yet, and the states that did not yet offer telehealth – we wanted to encourage the changing of regulations at least temporarily to help accommodate the patients. As well as things like tax relief and adding additional caregivers, it wasn’t just about keeping businesses open, it was about making sure that patients were being protected and that products and employees were safe.”

In Colorado, we have seen dispensaries adapt to this crisis by adding hand sanitizer at checkout counters, wearing gloves and masks and only allowing one person in the purchasing area at a time. 33 states now have some sort of medical cannabis program.

According to news around the U.S., cannabis is now considered essential. But it wasn’t that way at first. According to Churgai, “Some states seemed to hold back on making any temporary changes in regulations. Within two weeks though, all the other states began implementing the suggestions we recommended.” 

We needed to make sure patients were receiving safe products, that employees were also being kept safe.

“California has reached out more than any other state, I believe that is due to the fact that every single county there is different, from its tax structure to its implementation of the laws. Massachusetts was high with the questions as well because of them deciding to close down their recreational dispensaries for adult use. Now there is an influx of new patients. Now there are new concerns.” 

Each state has a different set of rules and regulations surrounding their medical cannabis programs. “We wanted businesses to all have the same information so we offered a live training on health and safety during COVID-19, that can now be purchased as part of our Patient Focused Certification.1 In the training we provide information such as how to properly put on and take off gloves, how to properly touch things, how to properly sanitize surfaces, and more to make sure that businesses are being as safe as possible during this time.”

“When we realized that we helped assist in making these services essential, we wanted to learn how they actually worked for patients throughout the U.S. We wanted to understand, what do they still need during this time? Are their needs being met as patients? Would they like to see services like telehealth and delivery continue after COVID-19? We realize that we really need to streamline our advocacy efforts at this time, and we felt the survey would be a great way to learn what we can do for patients out there,” Churgai explains.

Help ASA discover what patients need around the United States.

Take the survey here:

COVID-19 Patient Experience Survey asks questions like:

• How do you obtain cannabis?
• Do you feel you are at risk for covid and why?
• Rate your state’s response to the covid crisis.
• How should your state be assisting you more?

Patients are at greater risk for a variety of reasons so ASA is working to ensure that the needs of patients are taken into account. So, in addition to creating this survey, Americans for Safe Access has also created a page on their website dedicated to resources for patients seeking information surrounding COVID-19.2

Churgai says, “Cannabis is real medicine. I have been in this industry for so long, and I am a realist, and I know things will not change overnight. But I do feel the pandemic has highlighted the need for this medicine to be seen as real medicine. At ASA, patients are our priority, we are unbiased, we are not paid to play, and patients will always be our top priority.” You can learn all about Americans for Safe Access by visiting their website:

1. http://www.patientfocusedcertification/training/a-la-carte-trainings/

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Trends in Endocrinology + Metabolism

The quest for a healthy
Endo-Cannabinoid System (ECS)
Emphasis on immunoregulation



The ECS is a disperse system, extending throughout the body; it is in constant interplay with all other organ systems promoting homeostasis in almost every aspect. Despite that, the ECS is still neglected and not included in the curricula of medical schools. For this reason a few introductory notes are in order (Battista et al, 2012). The ECS is the regulator of cognition, mood, nociception, energy metabolism, oxidation, inflammatory processes and a disease modifier as well (Tantimonaco et al, 2014).

The ECS consists of receptors, ligands to these receptors and enzymes that synthesize and degrade these ligands. The number of known endocannabinoid receptors is still growing to more that 55; the two most outstanding receptors are CB1R, mainly distributed throughout the nervous system and responsible for the psychoactivity of cannabis, and CB2R, mainly distributed on immune cells, even those “disguised” as specialized cells within other organs. Other receptors include TRPVx, GPR55, PPaRs etc; all these receptors form dimers between them as well as heterodimers with other types of receptors, like opioid, dopamine, serotonin, adenosine, catecholamine receptors and many others, thereby promoting a universal regulatory interplay throughout the body. The ligands to these receptors are the endocannabinoids (ECs): lipids of the eicosanoid family, derivatives of arachidonic acid (AA); the latter abounds in cell membranes; five of these are well characterized to date, but two are well studied: Anandamide (AEA) and 2-Arachidonoyl-Glycerole (2AG). ECs in the nervous system act in negative feedback loops, more or less like neurotransmitters, but, unlike them, they are synthesized and degraded on demand, and not stored in micro-vesicles. Several formerly unrelated morbid conditions are now recognized as ECS deficiencies, including, among many, migraine, autism, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, etc (Russo, 2016).

The endocannabinoid system is involved in immunoregulation through the CB2 receptor and through receptor independent biochemical pathways. The mechanisms of immunoregulation by ECs include modulation of immune response in different cell types, effect on cytokine network and induction of immunoapoptosis; in brief, ECs down-regulate the innate and adaptive immune response in most, but not all, instances. Manipulation of endocannabinoids in vivo may constitute a novel treatment modality against inflammatory disorders.

It is obvious that the health of the ECS is of great importance in many ways, including the facing of a viral infection like COVID-19. A healthy ECS depends on many factors, most importantly from proper nutrition (McPartland et al, 2014).

Dietary ω3 fatty acids seem to act as homeostatic regulators of the ECS, acting in opposite directions if consumed by obese or non-obese individuals. Little change in EC levels are seen in individuals with normal weight, not fed a high ω6 diet.

Dietary ω6 fatty acids are also essential, but should be in a balance to ω3s; suggested balance is ω3:ω6=1:1 to 1:3 for proper ECS signaling and prevention of peroxidation in general. Arachidonic acid is an essential component of the ω6 fatty acids.

Probiotics and prebiotics play a significant part in ECS health, but, for a bizarre reason, they are generally not mentioned: They up-regulate CB2Rs residing on immune cells of the gut; they also modulate CB1Rs, depending on conditions, for instance, they down-regulate CB1Rs in obese individuals and help them gain less or no fat.

Some flavonoids, like kaempferol, genistein, epigallocatechine gallate, and curcumin enhance the ECS; same happens with some anthocyanidins, like cyanidin and delphinidin, although with a different mechanism.

Phthalates, pesticides, additives to pesticides like piperonyl butoxide act as ECS disruptors, meaning that consuming organic food may be a sound protective measure, along with intake of detoxifiers, in case of health problems consistent with ECS deficiency not otherwise explained.

Chronic stress impairs the ECS by decreasing levels of AEA and 2AG, and possibly through changes in CB1R expression too. Stress management may reverse the effects of chronic stress on ECS signaling. Anecdotal reports and common experience suggest that techniques such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises and practicing of sex as well, exhibit mild cannabimimetic effects, thereby balancing the system.

Exercise is also an ECS regulator: Long-term exercise leads to sustained elevations of ECs, and predictable CB1R down-regulation.

Chronic alcohol consumption and binge drinking likely desensitize or down-regulate CB1R and impair EC signaling. Alcohol is not compatible with a healthy ECS.

Nicotine is an ECS deregulator: It induces EC production in some areas of the brain, while decreasing them in others. It should be avoided too.

Caffeine, acutely administered, potentiates CB1R-mediated effects through antagonizing adenosine at the A1 receptor (AA1R). At the undisturbed state, AA1Rs tonically inhibit CB1R activity; Caffeine antagonism on AA1Rs sets CB1Rs free of inhibition, thereby enhancing ECS function, for example by letting 2AG activate CB1Rs. During chronic administration of caffeine, the effects are blurred by individual differences in adaptation. In general, CB1Rs are down-regulated.

Chocolate: Cocoa contains sm-all amounts of at least three N-acyl-ethanolamines with cannabimimetic activity, expressed either directly by activating cannabinoid receptors, or indirectly, by increasing AEA levels (di Tomaso et al, 1996).

Selected Bibliography:

Battista et al, 2012:

Tantimonacco et al, 2014:

(Russo, 2016):

(McPartland et al, 2014):

(di Tomaso et al, 1996):

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