Marijuana Legalization

The Odyssey to Marijuana Legislation and the New NORML By Enyaj Pitchford


I recently met with the legendary marijuana defense attorney Bruce Margolin and his NORML peeps (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws) . They meet weekly on Tuesdays at the Baja Cantina in Marina Del Rey at the magic hour of 4:20. It’s a great spot, great time (live Mariachi) , great people and best vibes!

Bruce came with his close friend and co-worker of NORML since its inception, activist, and local Venetian Linda Lucks. They have been friends since high school in the Valley. In 1973, she bought her house near the ocean on Wavecrest in Venice, where many NORML meetings, as well as BeachHead meetings, which she joined in 1975, were held. The magic happened when Bruce invited her to San Francisco, to attend a NORML event and she jumped on it. She didn’t know much about it but she was a pot smoker so thats all she needed to know. The two former party animals became co-coordinators of NORML in 1973. They worked in the media, held informative fundraising parties, networked to spread the word of the great need for reform of the then draconian cannabis laws. They became part of a political cadre of people in California that passed the first decriminalization laws in 1976. They heralded the lobby to Sacramento along with George Moscone, Willie Lee Brown, Henry Waxman and others, which decriminalized cannabis for the first time ever in California. Previously, it was a felony to have any amount on you. You could get up to 10 years in the state penitentiary! After years of working together, Linda Lucks was tapped to be the only woman at the time on the National board of NORML. Linda reminisced about a time in Venice, in 1970, when Jack Herrer, author of The Emperor Wears No Clothes, set up his tables on the Ocean Front Walk, promoting hemp and its historical value in this country’s history, and medical marijuana. “He’d hang at my house while his colleagues continued his work at his table. A truly wonderful time!” Linda exclaimed.

In Dec 22 2022 California NORML held an event celebrating their 1972 campaign called Prop 19. “That was the ideal campaign which is what we should have right now!” Says Bruce. “That is to legalize the use of marijuana for anyone over the age of 18; including the right of possession, cultivation and sales without any legal consequences.” Bruce goes on to explain that “We collected signatures; hippies went out into the streets to get them, and we got it on the ballot! In 1972, it was a tough time for pot smokers. And despite how conservative the laws on the books were, we managed to get one third of the voters in their favor of prop 19”. With such an instant success, Bruce believed that legalization was a short battle ahead. He believed that within five years they’d have it done, no problem! Little did he realize the compromised victory would take nearly four more decades, as conservative forces or should we say “farces” created their ‘war on drugs’ money making tactics for their own martini swinging contingent. Furthermore, the cost of getting propositions on the ballot went up considerably. Hippie crews working ‘for the cause’ were rapidly declining in these changing times, and you needed to pay people to get this done.

Bruce Margolin and Linda Lucks

Bruce Margolin and Linda Lucks

Undaunted by obstacles, and committed to their cause, Linda and Bruce went to Washington DC to see what they could do on a national level. That is until the Moscone bill passed . George Moscone was the mayor of San Francisco, who was brutally murdered along with Harvey Milk. His bill reduced marijuana charges to a misdemeanor. It now had a six month maximum jail time, instead of ten years. Quite an accomplishment for social justice! And less than an ounce of cannabis was now just a fine. Linda pointed out that the cops’ response then was “going for blood. They didn’t relinquish their power easily”. She said that “all they were going after then were hippies and people of color.” They, being professionals, white and homeowners, were not targeted.

But don’t think, with the legalization of Cannabis for recreational use that the work of NORML is over! There is a lot of work yet to be done to improve the law to reinstate the original demands of prop 19, to expunge records and free people of past cannabis based convictions and to halt workplace discrimination against marijuana users. NORML‘s website (, offers a great source for current and evolving marijuana laws. Currently they state that Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a number of marijuana-related bills into law, including legislation protecting employees from workplace discrimination. Specifically,it makes “it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person in hiring, termination, or any term or condition of employment, or otherwise penalize a person, if the discrimination is based upon the person’s use of cannabis off the job and away from the workplace” as determined by a positive drug screen for the presence of the carboxy THC metabolite. ( Carboxy THC is an inactive byproduct of THC that may be present in a urine sample for as many as 100 days post-abstinence ). As per the United States Department of Justice, the detection of this metabolite “only indicates that a particular substance is present in the test subject’s body tissue. It does not indicate abuse or addiction; recency, frequency, or amount of use; or impairment.” The law, which does not go into effect until January 1, 2024, is similar to those already enacted in several other adult-use states, including Connecticut, Montana, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. “Urine tests are a highly offensive invasion of workers’ personal bodily privacy,” said Dale Gieringer, the Director of California NORML – which had lobbied for several years in favor of the bill. “They are too frequently abused to discriminate against unpopular workers and minorities. Workers should have the same right to use cannabis as to use other legal substances off the job.”

NORML‘s Deputy Director Paul Armentano added: “Urine screening for off-the-job cannabis consumption has never been an evidence-based policy. Rather, this discriminatory practice is a holdover from the zeitgeist of the 1980s ‘war on drugs. It is time for workplace policies to adapt to this new reality and to cease punishing employees for activities they engage in during their off-hours that pose no workplace safety threat.” Governor Newsom also signed several additional bills into law reforming marijuana policies, strengthening parental rights – and Assembly Bill 1954 – which prohibits physicians and surgeons from automatically denying either treatments or medications to patients solely because they consume medical cannabis or because they have tested a positive for THC on a drug screen.

The Governor also signed a measure which facilitates existing efforts to review and expunge the records of those Californians with certain cannabis-related convictions on their records. Under existing law, nearly 200,000 Californians have had their marijuana-related records expunged. Passage of the new law is anticipated to provide relief to an estimated 34,000 additional Californians. The Governor also ended local bans on medicinal cannabis delivery, thereby expanding patients’ access to legal, regulated cannabis products. (Currently, more than half of the state’s cities and counties prohibit the operation of licensed cannabis businesses.) The bill takes effect on January 1, 2024.

Finally, Gov. Newsom created a process for California to enter into agreements with other states to allow cannabis transactions with entities outside California. The Governor had previously signed budget legislation reducing various marijuana-specific taxes. “These important legislative victories are a testament to years of hard work and lobbying efforts by California NORML and others,” NORML‘s State Policies Director Jax James said. “These common sense reforms provide further and sorely needed protections and relief for patients and millions of others in California who choose to consume cannabis responsibly.

And now, let’s take a look at who Bruce Margolin is and what place he represents in the history of cannabis legalization. Bruce began his law practice in LA in 1967. It was the height of the active busts against cannabis users. That was the biggest amount of arrests prior and after that year. It was a terrible misuse of power. As Bruce tells it, “all these young kids were coming from across the nation to find themselves and join in the friendly hippie atmosphere and the good times of California and the great bands; and the cops used this law where if they could smell weed they could search you and you could be put in prison, doing up to ten years, if they didn’t get probation. If they got probation they would still see a year in the pen. It was a tough time and shocking to me as a young lawyer. I went to court for one case in the beginning of my career. I represented six kids busted at a hippie house in Hollywood. One of the kids had weed in his draw in his bedroom. I argued with the judge that this constitutes a crime without any intent to hurt anybody. And my understanding of the law that I learned in law school was (and I just graduated that past year), that the American Bar association says that the purpose of punishment is to correct the intended wrong. But clearly, in this case, there is no intended wrong! I suggested that why don’t we resolve this case, your Honor, which is not worth the expense of the judicial time and police time, over something so ridiculous!? How can you justify punishing this young man and putting him in jail?” Well, as Bruce found out, as the judge paused and looked around for a while, he abruptly said “Well, young man, you broke the law!” Bruce thought, “Oh my God! This is so fucked up!” He knew right there and then he had to do something about this. He knew that he wasn’t going to get that far inside the courtroom, until he got traction outside of the courtroom, somehow. That’s when he realized that politics was the way to do it. And on his way to the office in the parking lot, he was thinking about organizations that have acronyms.” I thought about the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). That’s how I came up with the acronym CAMP: The Campaign to Abolish Marijuana Prohibition.” He took that down to the Free Press and they interviewed him and put in the article about him and his career took off

Bruce’s career skyrocketed! The Free Press put him on the front page of their paper, and he wound up representing thousands of people. He represented more people on marijuana charges than any other lawyer in the country. Bruce declared that ” by the time I was in practice for four years, he had five lawyers working for me and 10 employees. A BIG practice! “And his business card had his customary peace sign on it.

Bruce continued his amazing tale.”So I ran for public office the following year. I ran against a 26 year incumbent Republican in 1970,for the district that runs from the Valley to parts of Hollywood. I won the primary and still ran my practice while I had a crew put up signs for me. I ran on the platform for the legalization of marijuana and I lost to this guy by less than 5 %! But at that point, I needed to reevaluate myself and my career and took a sabbatical.” Bruce went to Greece, Israel, Africa and then to India, where Baba Ram Dass introduced him to his guru, the legendary Neem Karoli Baba, Maharaji. Maharaji said to him “You have a boon to help others, and serve others; you should use it.” So he came back to the states and went back to his practice and continued his work for NORML. “In 1973 ” he explains “I was asked to give up CAMP and join the National Organization of Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and that’s when I started working with Linda (Lucks) and we became coordinators.”

Bruce stuck with his anti-prohibition of Cannabis platform for all these years, using politics to bring attention to the urgency of the matter.. He ran for Congress, he ran for Governor,and most importantly, the state of California gave him the ballot designation of Marijuana Legalization Attorney. And that right there showed that this was a legitimate cause. And in one of the campaigns, he ran during a recall election with 132 candidates, Bruce came in 11th! Just because of the title the campaign granted him, and his identification with the marijuana law reform. After that, he got momentum to run for US Congress, elevating the Marijuana legalization platform. It became a form of national advertising for the cause!

All these years, Bruce has worked on defending cases. He writes a publication called The Guide to Marijuana Laws which is available on his website at It clarifies the new cannabis business licensing laws. Bruce says that ” It’s important to know the laws. I wrote this because I found out people were getting busted because they didn’t know the law. So this book is important for people to know how to keep out of trouble and for lawyers to know the procedural laws as well.”

Bruce has just finished his memoirs and has titled it “Down for the Cause.” The day of our interview he received an amazing review from George Gascon, the district attorney of Los Angeles County. He wrote ” Down for the Cause is a fascinating account of the legal history of cannabis in the United States. From criminalization to legalization, Bruce invites the reader to travel in time to understand better how a plant, in thousands of years of use for medicinal, religious and recreational purposes , goes from being one of America’s most demonized drugs to one that is widely used and increasingly legalized for medicinal and recreational purposes around the country. Through this personal journey growing up in LosAngeles, becoming a successful criminal defense lawyer, a husband, a father, and a grandfather, Bruce connects the reader to the cannabis world, exposing the policy failures of the war on drugs. In search of his own place in the Universe, Bruce’s spirituality, love for his family, and compassion for others, inspires and educates the reader in ways most policy driven books on the subject cannot. A great read for anyone interested in seeking to avoid past policy failures,of America’s war on itself. Bruce always says that he’s not promoting marijuana, he’s promoting a choice.

The Federal government gave him a ‘service mark’: “no one belongs in jail for marijuana.” That service mark hangs in his office. Bruce still practices law . He’s still active in NORML, which is where we met for this interview. He’s done with traveling to board meetings, so they made him Director Emeritus, which means he’s got a lifelong appointment on the board. And it’s been a big part of his life. Bruce is very proud of the work he’s accomplished. He worked hard, and yet humbly admits, in part he lucked out; right place, right time. “I did my part but it wasn’t bigger than a lot of other people have done, whose names are not recorded in history.” He continues, “But for me it was a great opportunity because I was able to do something of value. It came to me at the right place, at the right time.”. He had a purpose and succeeded in it. Amazing! “Putting people in prison and jail for simply smoking marijuana was just so barbaric, draconian and unjust. It was just sickening.”

Thank you Bruce for your hard work and perseverance, from all of us enjoying the fruits of your decades of labor; for acting to correct the wrong presented to you and not giving up! In the simplest of terms, Bruce is a modern day hero!

NORML continues to represent the rights of the consumer. “We’re not in the game to be in business, we’re not in the game for money making, but for ours and others personal freedom of choice; and we’ve done a lot over these many years, by being reliable and presenting to the public an articulate, responsible voice,” Bruce clearly declares, and with great pride at that. Thank you Bruce for all your hard work! Look for my review of his book in an upcoming issue!

Law Offices of Bruce Margolin