Drug Law
Drug Law

Women's History Month: Fighting to End Marijuana Prohibition

| by NORML

This is part of an ongoing series featuring women who are leading the movement for the elimination of marijuana prohibition and the reform of laws governing its use in the United States. They are making history in law reform advocacy, cannabis related business and politics and in the field of medical research and patient care.

In May 1929, Pauline Sabin (left) founded the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR). It was a platform for women who were demanding the repeal of the 18th amendment forbidding the manufacture and sale of alcohol. Known as the Sabin women, the leadership of the WONPR consisted primarily of the nonpartisan wives of leaders of American industry. In a little over a year, almost 1.5 million Sabin Women were publicly calling for an end to prohibition-inspired violence and political malfeasance related to the illegal production of alcohol.

"We believe that there are multitude of women who are opposed to national prohibition who welcome an opportunity as a body to voice their opposition and work for such a change in the law." –Pauline Sabin

In 2010, concerned female scientists, politicians, mothers and working women all over America are fighting with equal passion to end the prohibition of marijuana. They are following in the footsteps of Pauline Sabin, M. Louise Grosse (Founder of the Molly Pitcher Club), Mary T. Norton (the first female Democrat elected to serve in the house and member of the WONPR Advisory Council), and other female leaders of the 1930’s anti-prohibitionist movement. Like their predecessors, these women are the true change makers who are working to normalize, legalize, tax and regulate the use of a substance currently used by tens of millions of Americans. They are inspiring women from all social circles and political spheres to speak up and publicly support sensible, responsible cannabis policies based on science, reason and compassion.

While any attempt to identify the most impressive female leaders of the marijuana legalization movement is guaranteed to miss many of those who have toiled long and hard to move this cause forward, the women listed here were selected for their outspoken activism and media outreach. They are presenting a new public face to the reform movement and serving as inspiration for like-minded women everywhere. If there is a sister in the movement you would like to see recognized by the NORML Women’s Alliance, please email Sabrina Fendrick with her name and a bio of her accomplishments at [email protected].

The NORML Women’s Alliance would like to honor all of the female NORML Directors who are paving the way toward rational cannabis policies and are setting a wonderful example as women who have actively taken on leadership roles (this year and last) within the NORML family. Thank-you ladies, you are making history:

NORML Women Chapter Leaders

Highlights of Women Making History

Madeline Martinez is the co-founder of the United States’ first Cannabis Cafe which opened in late 2009. She is the Executive Director of Oregon NORML, NORML’s largest and most succesful chapter affiliate, boasting more than 2,000 dues paying members. Currently, she isco-chief petitionerfor the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, a statewide initiative for 2010, which seeks to tax and regulate cannabis for adult consumption, allow farmers to grow industrial hemp and fund state social service programs. Madeline is a retired police officer and grandmother of five. Martinez is also a member of NORML’s Board of Directors as well as NORML’s Pauline Sabin Winner in 2007.

Jeanne Kohl-Welles is a State Senator from Washington. Representing Seattle in the State Senate, Kohl-Welles has a long history of supporting marijuana legislation, including efforts to expand patient access to medical marijuana and to depenalize adult use. In addition to her chairmanship of the Sen. Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee, Sen. Kohl-Welles sits on the Senate Ways & Means and Judiciary Committees. She has been representing her district in one capacity or another for almost 20 years.

Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson is a State Representative for the city of Seattle and many of its neighboring communities. Representative Dickerson has been a major advocate for marijuana law reform in Washington and was a primary sponsor of 2010 legislation that sought to regulate the use of marijuana for adults.. She was also a co-sponsor of the House bill to decriminalize marijuana (a companion bill to Kohl-Welles’ Senate decriminalization bill) and a cosponsor of the House version of the medical marijuana expansion bill (also a companion bill to Kohl-Welles’ Senate version).

Dr. Julie Holland is a board certified psychiatrist in New York City whose appearance on The Today Show’s Stiletto Stoners broadcast helped introduce America to the growing phenomenon of responsible, successful women using who use cannabis instead of alcohol. Her eloquent and intelligent commentary on this nationally broadcast segment not only shed a positive light on female cannabis consumers, but was also a major inspiration for the creation of the NORML Women’s Alliance. Dr. Holland is also a published author and outspoken advocate for sensible marijuana policies. From 1996 to 2005, Dr. Holland ran the psychiatric emergency room of Bellevue Hospital on Saturday and Sunday nights. A liaison to the hospital’s medical emergency room and toxicology department, she is considered an expert on street drugs and intoxication states, and lectures widely on this topic. She published a paper in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, describing a resurgence of the drug phenomenon smoking marijuana soaked in embalming fluid, which may be a carrier for PCP.

Jessica Corry is a Denver-based attorney, public policy analyst, and influential political strategist. She is the leading voice for conservatives against marijuana prohibition and is one of the most high profile activists in the state. On a national level, Corry has been publicly advocating marijuana law reform and has been quoted or featured in several media-related pieces. This includes appearances on Fox News and a featured in a Washington Post editorial, "Reefer sanity: The marijuana lobby goes mainstream," written by fellow charter member of the NORML Women’s Alliance, Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker. Corry is a Republican mother of two young children who believes that marijuana prohibition is a violation of states rights and undermines the American family. She is also a regular blogger on the Huffington Post and was chosen as one of Colorado’s top political “Movers and Shakers” by the Colorado Statesman.


Mieko Hester-Perez is a brave mother and newcomer to the marijuana reform movement. Hester-Perez received national attention after being featured on ABC News, CBS News, Good Morning Americaand Fox News as a parent who uses medical cannabis as treatment for her autistic son. "At first I did some research, and I found a doctor who actually had a protocol for medical marijuana in children diagnosed with autism," Hester-Perez told "Good Morning America." Her 10-year-old son was dangerously underweight, "you could see the bones in his chest. He was going to die," she said on the nationally syndicated television morning show. “My son had self-injurious behaviors. He was extremely aggressive, he would run out of our house… he was a danger to himself and others.” A few hours after giving her son a cannabis-infused brownie she saw a major change in her son’s eating habits and behavior. “Marijuana balanced my son," says Hester-Perez. She is a wonderful mother and a proud parent who understands the importance of marijuana law reform and is fighting to normalize the movement with her public advocacy and activism. She was also a featured speaker at the hugely successful Los Angeles Hemp Conference and Medical Marijuana Expose.


Cheryl Shuman is the founder and Executive Director of the new Beverly Hills NORML chapter, one of NORML’s highest profile affiliates. For many years, Shuman ran a thriving celebrity serving business and was known as the "Optician to the Stars." She recently organized one of the most successful and widely attended gatherings of the medical marijuana community, the 2010 Los Angeles Hemp Con Medical Marijuana Show. She was presented as the key note speaker and partnered with HempCon funder Mega Productions to serve as a co-producer. As an ode to women in the marijuana reform movement, Shuman planned a full day dedicated to women speakers that included several high profile female activists. Her press conference, prior to the convention, featured cultural icon Cheech Marin of the comedy duo Cheech and Chong. The news event received significant local coverage and was picked up by major national outlets, including USA Today. She has brought considerable attention to the cannabis crusade in California, and is working to normalize the image of movement into that of a modern, mainstream fight for social justice. Shuman has been featured on several major media outlets, including Reason TV, who captured the well known standing ovation Shuman received after giving testimony to the LA City Council. She has also been featured on KTLA and in The Sacramento Bee.

Alison Chinn-Holcomb, Esq is the Drug Policy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington State. She has been spearheading the effort to legalize use and was the primary lobbyist for this year’s WA marijuana reform bills. She is the 2008 recipient of NORML’s Pauline Sabin Award for her continued succesful efforts in Washington as a leading woman in the marijuana reform movement. As a successful criminal defense attorney for years prior to joining the ACLU team, she has represented many clients in marijuana prosecutions and was a member of the Marijuana Policy Panel that was formed in 2003 to monitor the implimentation of voter-passed I-75.

Marie Myung-Ok Lee is another brave mother who found medical cannabis to work miracles with her son’s autism and in May of 2009 bravely wrote a long article called "Why I Give My 9-Year-Old Son Pot" in Slate Magazine. Her son’s illness had caused him to have violent aggressive outbursts, chew holes in his shirt, and suffer from other major debilitating behaviors that not only took place at home but also while he was attending school, "The teachers were wearing tae kwon do arm pads to protect themselves against his biting." As she mentions in the article the effects of the medical cannabis on her son were life changing. "Since we started him on his ’special tea,’ J’s little face, which is sometimes a mask of pain, has softened. He smiles more." Her story was also featured in the online blog Mom Logic. She is an acclaimed Korean American writer and author of "Somebody’s Daughter: A Novel" and currently a visiting Lecturer at the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in the Americas at Brown University. "When I researched cannabis the way I did conventional drugs, it seemed clear to me that marijuana at the very least wouldn’t harm J, and might help. It’s strange, I’ve come to think, that the virtues of such a useful and harmless botanical have been so clouded by stigma." Marie Myung-Ok Lee is bringing a maternal, mainstream face to the positive uses of medical marijuana. Her bravery and strength makes her a wonderful asset in the fight to give a voice to anti-prohibition parents.

Julie Stewart, the founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a twenty-year old advocacy group fighting for fair sentencing laws, was inspired to active after her brother, a nonviolent, first-time drug offender was sentenced to five years in a federal prison for growing marijuana. Stewart was personally affected by marijuana’s prohibition and is fighting to move criminal justice sentencing guidelines away from mandatory minimums. Stewart’s lobbying achievements and considerable media coverage has earned her major recognition, including having been featured in several Washington Post articles within the last couple of years. In 2007, Stewart testified in front of the U.S. Sentencing Commission (whose role is to set guidelines regarding sentencing defendants in federal court) and successfully advocated for them to amend the new sentencing rules in order to qualify thousands of drug offenders for release from federal prison. Her latest successes include putting an end to the sentencing disparaty between the unjust penalties for individuals prosecuted for crack cocain-related charges, a majority of whom are African American, and the more lenient punishment associated with crimes involving powder cocain, which tends to be more common among white people.


In Memoriam
Women from Marijuana Reform History

Dr. Ester Fride (1953-2010) Israeli Scientist who showed that a newborn mammal can not suckle when lacking one of the two cannabinoid receptors. Upon receiving her doctorate in psychoneurobiology, she conducted her research in the U.S. at Johns Hopkins and the National Institutes of Health, focusing on how prenatal stress and neonatal development in the brain. In 1990 in Israel, she began work in the lab of Raphael Mechoulam, who concentrated his research on the clinical application of cannabinoids. Fride was also involved in the identification of an endocannabinoid, 2-Arachidonyl Glyceryl ether, and was co-author of a breakthrough paper describing how the newly found compound responds to the cannabinoid receptor. She is best known for her work at the College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel, where she first hypothesized that endocannabinoids played a role in the nursing process and found evidence of a third cannabinoid receptor. Fride wrote in the European Journal of Pharmacology in 2004 that, “The medical implications [that newborn mice lacking the cannabinoid receptor CB1 are unable to suckle at birth] are far-reaching…and suggest a promising future for cannabinoids [CB1 deprived puppies injected with THC promptly after birth, were able to suckle and developed normally] in pediatric medicine for conditions including ‘non-organic failure-to-thrive’ and cystic fibrosis.”

at the White House in 1997Cheryl Miller (1946-2003) was one of the first medical marijuana activists in the state of New Jersey. Miller suffered from multiple sclerosis for over 30 years and is best known for being featured in a 2002 political ad critical of then Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) for publicly stating that she should be arrested and incarcerated for using medical cannabis. The ad was deemed the "Most Dramatic Political Ad in 2002" by the National Journal and has been credited for bringing down Barr’s re-election bid to congress. The add aired 4,000 times on major news and cable networks. From acts of civil disobedience, to public protests, to starring in several advocacy commercials, Miller acted on behalf of thousands of seriously ill patients who were desperate and dying to legally access medical marijuana. Unfortunately, Cheryl Miller did not live to see New Jersey become the Nation’s 14th state to legalize medial marijuana. However, her membory will live on through the incorporation of this hard fought new law which is fondly refered to by locals as the "Cheryl Miller Medical Marijuana Act.". A recipient of NORML’s Lifetime Achievement for medical cannabis, along with her brave and loving husband Jim Miller, Cheryl Miller has earned her place as a major player in the history of marijuana law reform.

Dr. Dorothy Whipple (1901-1995) was a pediatrician and author who didn’t actually get active in marijuana law reform until later in her senior years. She was one of NORML’s earliest supporters and a founding member of the first NORML Advisory Board in the early 1970’s. Dr. Whipple wrote "Q: Is the Grass Greener? Answers to Questions About Drugs," advocating a more compassionate alternative to the criminal prosecution of marijuana related offenses. She served as one of NORML’S star expert witnesses at state legislative hearings across the nation and was a staunch advocate for women’s rights.

Picture not available

Lynn Zimmer (1947-2006) was a sociologist from Queens College who co-author “Marijuana Myths/Marijuana Facts,” one of the leading scholarly books on marijuana. To date, it has been published and translated in seven different languages. She was well known for her writing on several drug-related issues, including education, drug testing and public messaging. Zimmer was also a frequent expert guest on radio and TV programs. In 2000, Zimmer was honored by NORML as a recipient of the Lester Grinspoon Award for Achievement in the Field of Marijuana Law. Her intelligent perspecitve and insight into the issue of drugs in society solidified her place as a distinguished scholar in the area of marijuana and drug policy reform over all. For several years, she was an active and valued member of the NORML Board of Direcotrs. She was a supporter of the organization and the cause until the end.