Denver's skyline, as seen from City Park. (Jupiter Images)

Why NORML branched out into new digs in Denver

While the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has chapters all over the U.S., NORML only has one actual office outside of its headquarters in Washington DC — and it just opened in Denver today.

“We’re not opening a Denver office to combat illegalization or to fight a cultural war,” said NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre as he paced his organization’s expansive new digs, which sit at South Colorado Boulevard and Interstate 25 and is about three times the size of NORML’s DC headquarters. “We’re here to waive a green flag and acknowledge that we’re moving from prohibition to tax and control, and we’re here to ring out the best aspects of it and identify the worst parts of it and fix those parts where possible.”

The move is major for NORML, which has eight full-time employees — one of whom, development director Sabrina Fendrick, is already working from the Denver office. The non-profit’s Colorado expansion wouldn’t have been possible without Colorado company WeedMaps, which donated the space to NORML, St. Pierre said. Now NORML and WeedMaps are neighbors — along with marijuana-rooted colleagues The Clinic and Steep Hill Halent of Colorado, who are also in the same building.

The organization has a number of goals for the space — including pop-up college classes from the folks at the well-regarded Oakland, Calif.-based Oaksterdam University — but all of the goals revolve around reforming local and national laws and holding their ground.

“We’ve been in the belly of the beast for 44 years in downtown DC on K Street, and once Coloradans voted to legalize marijuana and saw the success of the retail program, it affirmed that we needed to have a presence here in the midst of it all,” St. Pierre said. “We’ve been confronting those who have been at the core of marijuana prohibition for years — the DEA, the Drug Czar’s office, NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

“At this point we’re not going to give the ground to folks like Project SAM, who are nothing more than front groups for the rehab industry. When you’re a full-throated advocate like NORML is, you can draw those juxtapositions for the public.”

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St. Pierre has been with NORML for 24 years, and he remembers a not-so-distant past where he would get grief on short elevator rides in DC for wearing a marijuana-silhouetted lapel pin. When he walks into NORML’s new Denver digs, which he lovingly calls a “cannabis commerce building,” “I feel like a conquering hero,” he said.

When asked half-jokingly when he’s moving west, St. Pierre spilled the beans:

“When I’ve spoken at CU’s old 420 Rally and Denver’s 420 Rally and elsewhere in Colorado, I always ask people, ‘How many of you were born here?’ People raise their hands, and I tell them, ‘You were really lucky.’ Then I ask, ‘How many of you moved here?’ It’s usually more hands than those who were born in Colorado, and I tell them, ‘And you’re incredibly smart.’

“My better half desperately wants to move out of DC. She loves Colorado, as do I — and we did before legalization. So now it’s a matter of when, not a matter of if, we move to Colorado.”

Until then, the Colorado office — and the general goings-on of the state’s bustling marijuana industry — will keep St. Pierre traveling to the Denver area regularly. St. Pierre has a favorite story he likes to tell that shows how unique and necessary Colorado is to NORML’s overall plan.

“This is the state that has more supportive politicians, from the local level all the way up to Jared Polis, and we want to be here to support them,” he said. “The NORML PAC gives money to politicians who support reform. Usually we’re dedicated to senate and governors races, but now we have sheriffs and others in law enforcement in Colorado who want funding and public endorsements.

“I’ve been at NORML for 24 years, and if you told me 3-4 years ago that we’d have law enforcement personnel asking for public endorsements, I woulda thought you were high. We don’t see that in any state other than Colorado.”