Richard C. Cowan

Cowan was born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1940 where he graduated from a local high school in 1958. In 1962 he graduated with a B.A. in Economics, from Yale University, where he had served as president of the Yale Young Republicans and as Chairman of the Party of the Right in the Yale Political Union. He was also a founding member of Young Americans for Freedom, the Conservative student group launched in 1960 by William F. Buckley, Jr. Buckley’s friendship became a lifelong influence on Cowan’s life.

After graduating, Cowan held various management positions in his family’s companies working in manufacturing and natural resources. Later, Cowan worked as an independent investor. In 1972, after volunteering with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Cowan wrote a cover article for Buckley’s National Review. In it he called for Conservatives to support the legalization of marijuana, one of the first positions against prohibition in a major opinion journal. Buckley agreed with Cowan, and became a regular critic of marijuana prohibition.

In 1986, Cowan wrote another National Review cover article, “How the Narcs Created Crack”, in which he introduced the concept of the Iron Law of Prohibition. Cowan argued that prohibition is actually counterproductive because the economics of contraband creates incentives for selling stronger drugs. It was the basis of a book on the subject by economist Mark Thornton.

From August 1992 to August 1995 Cowan served as executive director of NORML. In 1994, following a dispute with the NORML Board of Directors, Cowan resigned, but then agreed to stay on after marijuana research pioneer and author, Harvard Medical School Professor Dr. Lester Grinspoon, MD, organized a new board of notable academics. This new NORML Board included Professors John P. Morgan MD and Lynn Zimmer Ph.D (the authors of “Marijuana Myths”, “Marijuana Facts”), Craig Reinarman, Ph.D, an expert on Dutch drugs policies, Nobel Laureate Kary Mullis Ph.D, Ann Druyan, co-producer of Cosmos (with her husband, Carl Sagan), Cato Institutes’s David Boaz and others.

Cowan resigned from NORML in 1995 and NORML’s Board of Directors appointed NORML founder Keith Stroup to replace Cowan as executive director.