Several years ago my wife explained to me her theory about birthday wishes: “Instead of blowing out a candle and not telling your wish to anyone, you should announce that wish to the world. Announcing what you want will help the universe to make it happen.”
As a founder, Director, and Secretary of NC NORML, I want to announce my wish to improve the organization. By explaining how we are organized, our plans for legalizing marijuana in the state, and the resources we need to be successful, more supporters will come forward in myriad ways. To this end, my goal is a weekly blog post. This week I want to discuss our operations last year, and how to build up and improve those operations throughout 2015.
NORML of North Carolina’s mission includes the full legalization of recreational marijuana, the implementation of a robust and well-designed medical marijuana program, and adoption of industrial hemp for improving agriculture and industry within the state of North Carolina.
Our website states:
“Our aim is to achieve the legalization of marijuana so that the responsible use of marijuana by adults is no longer subject to penalty. Through lobbying and public outreach, we hope to educate the public and the North Carolina Legislature about the benefits of the legalization of marijuana.”
NC NORML’s three part mission is dependent on developing and implementing a successful business plan. Over five years we have built the organization from the ground up. Although we have done a great job with limited resources, I believe we can do better in effecting real change in this state. As our supporters must become fully aware of the mission of NC NORML, how the organization operates, how it seeks to create and execute a multi-faceted strategy, and what our needs are, we will be able to apply the lessons of the last several years.
The organization is established as a “lobbying”, or “social welfare” official 501-(c)4 non-profit. While we are exempt from paying taxes, contributions to the organization are not tax-deductible. However, NC NORML does not disclose information about our donors to the government or anyone else. While we cannot directly participate in partisan elections, in most circumstances, we can educate the public about candidates for office and expose their positions on marijuana. We may also propose model legislation, work directly with government officials, produce research, conduct ad campaigns, and hold workshops and fund-raisers. We are, essentially, a fully volunteer organization. We have no paid staff, we have no office, and few resources.
NC NORML is a statewide chapter of NORML, the “National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws”. Members of the Board of Directors and officers of the organization are responsible for general operations, business, strategy, fund-raising, and overseeing the formation and continued operations of local chapters. A local chapter can be started by any dues paying member anywhere in the state. We have had active chapters in Asheville, Raleigh, Charlotte, Wilmington, Concord, Fayetteville, Outer Banks, and Winston-Salem. These local chapters are encouraged to grow their lobbying, event planning, signature gathering, fund-raising, and public education capabilities. The Board of Directors and Officers will work with these chapters and provide training, assistance, and support in order to build up from the grassroots.
In addition to frequent Board meetings at the state level, local chapters are encouraged to have regular, monthly meetings. All of the work is done in volunteers’ own time. Each chapter may choose to spend their resources in the manner they see as best for their chapter. For instance, at the beginning of the year, the state chapter raised funds to pay for a billboard on Independence Boulevard in Charlotte. Throughout the summer of 2014, local NC NORML chapters set up several tables at concerts throughout the state to get petitions signed, to raise money and awareness. And while both of these efforts generated a buzz, and created some attention in the local media, the planning and execution of these strategies could be improved and more can progress can be achieved.
We have also tried to put on larger events to benefit the statewide organization as a whole. We have attempted several times to host a two-day event, “Camp Cannabis”. We knew there would be a learning curve involved, but each time we ran into unforeseen obstacles. If we had better leveraged our resources and supporters, we might have found professionals who could have ensured the success of such an event.
One thing we have done well is to fund questions in state-wide polls, conducted by Public Policy Polling. In our most recent survey, we found that over 60% of North Carolinians support Medical Marijuana, approximately 42% support legalization, and only 48% support industrial hemp. This upward trend of support is encouraging as well as consistent with national results. The survey also tells us that the majority of North Carolinians need to be educated about the benefits of Industrial Hemp as a cash crop for the economy.
2015 will be all about building the organization, its operations, and how it interacts with local chapters and individuals. We need to increase the size and quality of our Board, build relationships with other businesses and social groups, raise funds, and recruit more volunteers. By developing a solid business plan for the year, we will be able to build our operations and follow through with our lessons learned from 2014.