September 25, 2014

UMass Libraries acquires the archives of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, relatively few bad puns are made


Image via Wikipedia.

Image via Wikipedia.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries announced a major acquisition earlier this week: the archives of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML. This represented a tempting opportunity to make puns, which the news media have, to their credit, mostly resisted, and whose professionalism we at MobyLives intend to emulate. Or does this indicates a fundamental shift in the public dialogue — perhaps you can track the mainstream acceptance of an idea or an activity through the slow draining away of bad wordplay in newspaper headlines? And what will this mean for High Times?

These and other pressing questions were for the time being left unanswered. UMass Amherst Libraries and NORML made the official announcement on Monday at an event with NORML’s founder, Keith Stroup, its current executive director, Allen St. Pierre, and the head of Special Collections, Rob Cox, in attendance.

The archive consists, as St. Pierre described it, of “tens of thousands of pages of documents, hundreds of thousands of emails, soon – tens of thousands of photographs, many videotapes of all kinds of era.” It is the largest marijuana law reform archive and memorabilia collection in existence and joins the papers of Lester Grinspoon at the university. Grinspoon, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard whose research into marijuana’s effects in the late ‘60s helped support the case for legalization, began his studies to demonstrate marijuana’s dangers to the “foolish young people”, but realized along the way that his beliefs had been based on misinformation, an experience he partly chronicles in the essay “A Cannabis Odyssey.”

The archives chronicle a tumultuous struggle, and not only with external forces—from an interview with St. Pierre on New England Public Radio:

The papers reflect professional disagreements, and some personal ones.

“There’s all kinds of scandalous things going back 43-plus years, regarding the human dynamic of people working closely together,” he says.

The acquisition comes at a key moment for marijuana legislation: twenty-three states in the union have legalized medical use, two have legalized recreational use, and more seem bound to follow. Peyton Manning is pretty happy about this; Maureen Dowd is still coming down.

They are also a natural extension of the library’s Archive of Social Change, which owns the W. E. B. DuBois papers and other materials. From a report by Kelsey Thibobeau for WGGB (Western Massachusetts):

“We specialize in archives about social change, documenting social change,” said Jay Schafer, Director of Libraries at UMass Amherst, “and we think that this documentation about the marijuana reform laws fits perfectly into that collecting strategy.”

All in all, a significant and interesting resource for anyone studying grassroots advocacy and drug policy. Perfectly possible to discuss it between mature adults on a civilized publishing blog without resorting to puns. What can I say, that’s just how we roll.


Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.