by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive DirectorMarch 16, 2020

Marijuana HempNORML Family,

I wanted to reach out personally to you to address the current public health situation that is directly impacting all of our lives, and to discuss what this means for our shared goal of ending federal marijuana prohibition going forward.

Since its founding in 1970, NORML has always had its doors and phone lines open to assist cannabis consumers across the country. Rest assured, that is not going to change. 

We are taking this current public health emergency with the highest level of seriousness and precaution. While our physical office in Washington, DC is closed, our national staff possesses all of the tools they need to continue our operations unhindered while telecommuting from home. We are also encouraging all of our chapters and volunteers across the country to do the same and to follow the advice and protocols provided by the CDC, state officials, and most especially, by their local departments of health. What this ultimately means for you is that our phone lines are still open to field your questions and concerns (202-483-5500), and you can still reach out via email at norml@norml.org if you need assistance.

For the past 50 years, we have worked together to combat our nation’s unjust marijuana laws. By doing so, we have also fostered a community. During this trying time, we must come together to protect this community, as well as the health and safety of others. We all need to take the COVID-19 threat seriously, and NORML encourages our members to keep up-to-date with CDC guidelines and advice regarding best practices here, as well as to follow the regional advice of your local health departments. This means practicing social distancing as much as is feasibly possible, and also staying indoors to the largest extent you can — especially if you are among those who are most vulnerable, such as elderly medical cannabis patients. For the time being, as is being advised, you should avoid attending large gatherings, instead taking a serious look at the opportunities afforded to us by modern technology to communicate and host events virtually through online platforms.

As a member of our NORML family, we earnestly care about your well-being. We all know a large part of what binds us together as cannabis consumers is community and sharing. However, while we are living through the current pandemic we should all be more mindful of our day-to-day consumption practices, and how the choices we make impact not only ourselves, but also those we care about. As long as cultures have consumed cannabis, the practice of sharing a joint among friends has been a common social practice. But given what we know about COVID-19 and its transmission, it would be mindful during this time to halt this behavior. 

The cannabis community should take similar precautions when it comes to various other conduits for marijuana, including bowls, bongs, pipes, vape pens, etc. Avoid direct sharing and continually keep your personal collection clean, using 90%+ Isopropyl Alcohol is an effective and affordable way to clear any germs or pathogens off your pieces. Further, because COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, some of you may wish to limit or avoid their exposure to combustive smoke — as this can put undue stress and strain on the lungs. Alternative delivery devices, such as vaporizer heating devices can significantly mitigate combustive smoke exposure, and of course, the use of edibles or tinctures can eliminate smoke exposure entirely.

To the extent you are able, it is also best to know where your cannabis is coming from. Cannabis from the unregulated market may potentially possess molds, pesticides, or other unwanted adulterants that could hamper one’s immune system. Whenever possible, try to obtain a lab-tested, regulated product – though we fully understand that most people in our country still live in a state that enforces prohibition and this is not a realistic option. This advice is especially pertinent for portable vaping devices, as unregulated products have been known to contain vitamin E and other dangerous additives that can harm the lungs. We also encourage everyone to remain vigilant of online misinformation (like any claims cannabis or CBD can help cure or protect against this virus) and to beware of potential scammers promoting similar claims.

We know these are very anxious times for many of us. They are also difficult economically for many. Here at NORML, our staff and volunteers and loved ones are no different than you. During this time, we all share the same concerns: staying safe, taking care of our families, paying bills, and putting food on the table. While NORML has always been overwhelmingly sustained and funded by our grassroots supporters, we will be largely suspending direct fundraising asks at this time out of respect for the economic impact this situation is having on all of our lives. You should always be putting yourself and those you care about first. If you happen to be in a situation where you feel comfortable making a donation to NORML at this time, we certainly would be appreciative of any contributions you can provide. But no one should feel obligated to do so if it means placing any further undue financial strain on themselves.

Lastly, I want to reassure you that we will indeed get through this. While marijuana law reform may not be a top priority for our legislators, the media, and the broader public for the time being, history informs us that these crises do not last forever. As an organization that will celebrate our 50th birthday later this year, we’ve survived through many difficult times. Many of those times it seemed like our issue would never return to the center stage and that our fight for justice would be waylaid. But every single one of those times we came out the other side stronger as a movement and continued to make advancements. This time will be no different. 

NORML, with your efforts and support, has fought for your rights and the rights of all Americans for five decades and we certainly won’t be stopping now. In the coming weeks you will continue to hear from us about important marijuana news and about several projects that you can engage in from home to fight for our shared values. Let’s stand strong together as a family connected by those values and get through these difficulties united. 

Be kind and care for yourself and others.

My sincerest regards,

Erik Altieri
NORML Executive Director