Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Richard Cowan, former director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), is editor of The Marijuana News. Born June 26, 1940, he graduated from high school in Fort Worth, Texas and in 1962 earned a B.A. Economics from Yale University, where he had served as president of the Yale Young Republicans. He held various management positions in manufacturing and natural resources and wrote several articles for publications such as National Review and Atlantic Monthly.
From August 1992 to August 1995, Cowan served as executive director of NORML. On July 23, 1994, several NORML office staffers advised the Board of Directors of irregularities in Cowan's expenditures, including about $30,000 in organizational checks payable to cash . The Board responded by requiring that all checks be countersigned by the treasurer. Cowan tendered his resignation, and then "unresigned". He attempted to get the Board to dissolve itself, so that it could be replaced by a new Board appointed by Cowan. On September 11, 1994, a telephone conference call/Board meeting ended with an 8-6 vote to dissolve the Board. However, letters were later produced showing that some of the Board members had already resigned, and thus were ineligible to vote. Both sides spent over $100,000 in the legal wrangling that ensued. NORML founder Keith Stroup replaced Cowan as executive director in 1995.
Cowan is perhaps best known now for his rivalry with Marijuana Policy Project founder Rob Kampia. Cowan fired Kampia from his position at NORML, but ultimately lost out as Kampia went on to found MPP in 1995, diverting much of the drug reform movement's resources away from NORML. In less than a decade, Kampia and his fellow activists grew their organization to 11,000 members, while NORML's membership stagnated at about 5,000. Perhaps more importantly, MPP was able to secure millions of dollars in donations from Progressive Corporation executive Peter Lewis. This gave Kampia tremendous power, as primary grant-writer in the fragmented cannabis movement. Cowan remained a vocal critic of MPP, penning scathing rebukes of the organization for its support of a Nevada initiative to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over (Since about 50% of U.S. marijuana arrestees are under 21, Cowan had favored a cannabis smoking age of 18 at the oldest).
By 2003, Kampia had gained enough influence to force Cowan to resign from the NORML Foundation board. Cowan remains a controversial figure in the marijuana reform movement. While some criticize him for infighting and publicly airing what they see as the movement's dirty laundry, others view him as a valuable devil's advocate, holding the movement's leaders accountable. Cowan's Marijuananews archives also represent one the most comprehensive resources for scholars studying the marijuana reform movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
- Richard Cowan Resigns from Board of NORML Foundation, The Marijuana News, Aug. 25, 2003.
- Biographical Data on Richard Cowan, The Marijuana News
- Low in America: The Story of the NORML Civil War.
- Their Liars Beat Our Liars. Freedom Has Nothing to Fear from the Truth, But Much To Fear From Those Who Think That the End Justifies The Means, Analysis By Richard Cowan, Nov. 6, 2002.
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