Understanding Civil Society Through Legalize Marijuana Organizations Term Paper

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Civil Society Through "Legalize Marijuana" Organizations

As microcosms of civil society, collective action groups operate with processes used by civil society but with uniquely tailored processes and results. The National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is one example of a collective action group that has used these processes to establish itself, grow, survive and currently flourish. Through intelligent framing, effective resource mobilization and wise use of political opportunity, NORML's 40+year history has resulted in growth from an idea supported by a few people to a well-funded and assertive national movement. This work will attempt to show NORML'S accurate reflection of successful civil society by reviewing research on civil society and collective action groups, reviewing NORML's history, and applying the research to NORML.


Collective Action Group as a Microcosm of Civil Society

Framing processes are a central dynamic, along with resource mobilization and political opportunity processes, for understanding civil society and social movements as a microcosm of civil society (Benford & Snow, 2000, p. 612). "Frames help to render events or occurrences meaningful and thereby function to organize experience and guide action" (Benford & Snow, 2000, p. 614). Flowing from that definition, "collective action frames are action-oriented sets of beliefs and meanings that inspire and legitimate the activities and campaigns of a social movement organization (SMO)" (Benford & Snow, 2000, p. 614). In studying frames, experts have found that collective action frames are the result of: action, because "something is being done"; process, because it is a "dynamic, evolving process"; agency, because the work of movement organizations or activists is evolving; contentious, because the process creates frames that are different from and may challenge existing frames (Benford & Snow, 2000, p. 614). Collective action frames have two characteristics: core framing tasks and discursive processes. Core framing tasks have three components: diagnostic framing, consisting of identifying and attributing problems; prognostic framing, consisting of predicting outcomes and essentially refuting opponents' solutions while supporting the group's solutions; motivational framing, consisting of "rationale for engaging in ameliorative collective action" (Benford & Snow, 2000, pp. 615-617). Discursive processes consist of the members' communications about their activities (Benford & Snow, 2000, p. 623), and their specific components are: frame articulation and frame amplification or punctuation (Benford & Snow, 2000, p. 623). Frame articulation involves connecting events and experience so they are unified and compelling; the uniqueness of a collective action frame's articulation is that it gives a new vision, viewpoint and interpretation of events and experience (Benford & Snow, 2000, p. 623). Frame amplification/punctuation consists of the emphasis of issues, events or beliefs, often by slogans (Benford & Snow, 2000, p. 623).

Experts have also found that "frames are developed, generated, and elaborated on & #8230;also by way of three sets of overlapping processes that can be conceptualized as discursive, strategic, and contested" (Benford & Snow, 2000, p. 623). As mentioned above, discursive processes are communications by members about their activities by frame articulation and frame punctuation. Strategic processes are utilitarian processes directed at achieving specific purposes, such as gaining new members or funding (Benford & Snow, 2000, p. 624), by "frame alignment processes" that link the group's interests and frames with the interests and frames of the target groups, such as prospective members and/or prospective benefactors (Benford & Snow, 2000, p. 624). There are four basic frame alignment processes: frame bridging, which connects the two groups' frames; frame amplification, which involves the "idealization, embellishment, clarification or invigoration" of the group's beliefs; frame extension, which consists of presenting the group's interests and frames as though they include issues and concerns of the target group; and frame transformation, which consists of changing old meanings and creating new ones (Benford & Snow, 2000, pp. 624-625). Contested processes are the "development, generation and elaboration" of a collective action group's frames. The group must face a number of challenges, which are usually presented by: "counterframing" by outsiders, such as opponents, observers and media, who publicly challenge the group's frame; frame disputes within the group when there are internal disagreements about diagnoses and/or prognoses; conflict between the group's frames and events which may contradict and/or undercut those frames (Benford & Snow, 2000, pp. 625-626). Frame diffusion, or the spread of one movement's ideas, frames and practices to another movement or culture, occurs through: strategic selection, in which the receiving movement or culture acts as an agent for the diffusion and selects and adapts an element of the first movement's ideas, frames and/or practices; strategic fitting, in which the transferor acts as an agent for the diffusion by selecting and adapting an element of its ideas, frames and/or practices into the new movement (Benford & Snow, 2000, p. 627).

Frames for a viable group, including a viable collective action group, are constantly undergoing changes. This dynamic process is attributed to 3 forces: political opportunity, which is based on the structure/restructure and "informal relations" of a political system and can facilitate or constrain the collective action group; cultural opportunities and constraints, which are based on a cultural "tool kit" of "meanings, beliefs, ideologies, practices, values, myths, narratives and the like" from which the collective action group draws meaning and creates new meaning as the culture and the collective action group's frames continually interact and alter each other; audience effects, in which the collective action group alters its action frames to communicate effectively with a target audience, which can facilitate or constrain the collective action group's frame. (Benford & Snow, 2000, pp. 629-630). A collective action group's framing activity also affects its other processes and outcomes in three aspects: political opportunities, in that collective action framing suggests that there are opportunities for change, that the individual has power to change his/her history, and that pro-opportunity framing can actually create political opportunity in a "self-fulfilling prophecy"; individual and collective identity, in that the participant's personal identity can be enlarged and fulfilled by participation in the collective identity and framing; specific-movement outcomes, in that "that for some movements, framing processes are critical to the attainment of desired outcomes" (Benford & Snow, 2000, pp. 631-632).

Resource mobilization, which is also a central dynamic of civil society and of collective action groups as a microcosm of civil society. Resource mobilization involves the "dynamics and tactics of social movement growth, decline, and change" (McCarthy & Zald, May 1977, p. 1213). Emphasizing both society's support and constraint of social movements, resource mobilization focuses on the resources that must be mobilized, connections among social movements and groups, the group's dependence on external support, and authorities' tactics to manage or absorb the group (McCarthy & Zald, May 1977, p. 1213). The support base for such groups are not necessarily based on the hardship of the supposed beneficiaries and at times the providers of resources such as money, facilities and labor do not necessarily share the group's values. (McCarthy & Zald, May 1977, p. 1216). The tactics used by groups for mobilizing resources may include encouraging cooperating within the group, energizing its supporters, neutralizing opposition, transforming the public into sympathizers and measurable achievement of goals (McCarthy & Zald, May 1977, p. 1217). In relation to larger society, the group uses the society's infrastructures -- such as media and social networks -- to mobilize resources (McCarthy & Zald, May 1977, p. 1223).

A Brief History of NORML

The National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) was founded in Washington, D.C. In 1970 by an attorney named Keith Stroup (Sinclair, 2010) and initially had a somewhat conservative, lawyerly approach of decriminalizing the use of marijuana (Sinclair, 2010). In that same year, "Amorphia: The Cannabis Cooperative," a California-based collective action group, was reportedly formed by Blair Newman (Sinclair, 2010). It appears that Amorphia, a more free-wheeling organization with the slogan of "Let it Grow!" And the objective of "free legal backyard marijuana," was initially the stronger of the two organizations. Amorphia certainly operated on the belief that the liberalization of systems helps 'resurrect civil society'" (Arat, 1994, p. 242). Soon joined by Michael Aldrich (NORML and The NORML Foundation, 2008) and by Frank Richards, Amorphia was dedicated to a marijuana legalization and decriminalization movement (Newman, Aldrich, & Richards, 1971). Funded by the sale of Acapulco Golf brand rolling papers, Amorphia used "media campaign, a news service, a speakers' bureau, court tests of pot laws, and funding expert witnesses to appear before state legislatures to lobby for legalization," intending to serve the public by legalizing Marijuana and serve its own members by dipping into the estimated $3 billion/year marijuana industry that would surely arrive by 1980 (Sinclair, 2010). Amorphia estimated that it would gross $500 million/year and devote $30 million/year to "social action."

Amorphia joined forces with two college professors named Leo Paoli and John Kaplan to create the California Marijuana Initiative, which led to California's first Proposition 19 in 1972. This first Proposition 19 was aimed at removing the criminal penalties for personal use of marijuana. Using a grass roots, all-volunteer force, and with the assistance of NORML, the 1972 Proposition…

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