Gary Storck

Headshot of Gary Stork

Gary Storck

Suffering from glaucoma his entire life, Gary Storck had a high probability of blindness and made usual trips to his eye doctor. On October 3rd, 1972, Gary Storck got high. On this day, Storck’s results surprised his doctor, showing oddly normal eye pressure. Storck knew better. From that day forward, he committed to the movement for the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana.

Storck left for California in 1984, but after some bad eye surgeries and no reliable source for good cannabis, he found his way back to his roots in Wisconsin twelve years later. Living in Madison, Storck got active with Wisconsin Norml (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and IMMLY (Is My Medicine Legal Yet?). At 4:20 p.m., August 1st, 2004, Storck and his peers talked with Steph Sherer, a visiting representative for Americans for Safe Access. She encouraged Storck and the other co-founders to start a Madison chapter of Norml. He had a long run as president, treasurer and was the last remaining founder until earlier this year. Storck continues work extensively on IMMLY and his own personal projects.

During my conversation with Storck, we discussed some of the strong history of marijuana activism here in Madison. In November of 1976, local citizens collected signatures for one binding and two advisory referendums to be put on the ballot. The advisory votes for decriminalization received the majority easily and legalization won by a slim margin.

“The ballot was so crowded, the following spring they put ordinance 23.20 on the ballot,” Storck said. “And that’s still the Madison cannabis ordinance.”  This ordinance allows for private possession of small amounts of cannabis and a $100 fine for a violation of its rules. This is a very established and forgiving ordinance, compared to other local laws around the state.

Storck also has knowledge of Madison culture over the years, including times of accepted public consumption preceding Madison’s fade out.

“There’d be a corner of the Rathskeller where people would just casually smoke,” Storck said. The UW’s Memorial Union Der Rathskeller has been an iconic Madison hangout for decades. But as the 1970s came to an end and new restrictions of the 1980s arrived, Madison’s tolerance for cannabis regressed. The Reagan administration and the War on Drugs took a major toll on cannabis progression across the entire country, that we now start to see recovery from.

Storck believes there are more people involved now than ever before. The strong support for the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act and the 75% referendum approval for medical marijuana on the 2010 election ballot show strong signs of Wisconsin’s progressive attitude towards cannabis.

There are many uses for the hemp plant, Storck describes it is as “the plant that could save the planet.” It can be used for textiles, paper, fuel, plastic alternatives, building materials and much more. The most important and contended use though, is its therapeutic functions.

“People died waiting for their medicine,” Storck said, specifically referring to patients approved in New Jersey having to wait years for their medical cannabis. Medical marijuana has been shown to treat a whole host of diseases and symptoms. Conditions that include glaucoma, PTSD syndrome, migraines, cancer and many more.

As for the future of this movement, Storck says he’s hopeful but cautious.

“The pendulum has once again swung way towards legalization, and you hear people talking about it like it’s inevitable,” Storck said.  “I’ve been fighting this battle a long time, I really hope it happens, but I’ve seen it get close in the 70s and swing back.”


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