Story by Chris Mulligan
College is an exciting time. For many, it offers the first exposure to a true marketplace of ideas. Starting school at Florida State University in the fall of 1999, I instantly noticed a shameful void in my campus community; there was no chapter of NORML at the school. My interest in NORML and marijuana law reform began the summer of my senior year in high school.
Just before leaving for college in Tallahassee, my best friend was busted for possession of a marijuana pipe. He was also supposed to attend FSU, but because of a six-month probation sentence, he was forced to remain in our hometown. Once he made his way to north Florida, we discovered another horrendous consequence of the War on Drugs – first-time "drug offenders" are prevented from receiving federal financial aid because of the 1999 Illegal Drug Provision of the Higher Education Act.
To us, the logical response was not to complain about these laws, but to do something about them. So we started the first campus chapter of NORML in the state of Florida. Within a year, we became one of the most active NORML chapters in the country and helped launch chapters at several other universities around the state. Campus organizing for NORML proved to be the most rewarding and productive experience of my college career.
By setting up tables all over campus, hosting debates with local law enforcement, conducting First and Fourth Amendment teach-ins, organizing benefit concerts, and lobbying the student government and Florida legislature, FSU NORML quickly earned a reputation as one of the most active student groups on FSU’s historically active and progressive campus. The following year we received the highest budget of any campus organization and were able to organize scores of educational events pertaining to marijuana and the harms of Prohibition.
My three years of campus organizing at FSU helped educate a whole new generation of student leaders, kept a few students out of trouble, and furthered the marijuana-law reform in the state of Florida. FSU NORML is still active today and continues to do great work on campus. In addition, there are now four other Florida NORML campus chapters and a statewide affiliate helping to coordinate all of them. It only took a few dedicated, caring students to bring NORML and one of the most important issues facing our country to one of the largest college campuses in the country.
In 2000, NORML invited me to speak at their annual conference in Washington, DC, which then led to a summer internship. Soon after, I became the youngest person ever elected to serve on NORML’s Board of Directors. Today, I am NORML’s Development Coordinator and attend law school at George Washington University. None of these opportunities would have been available to me had I not started a NORML chapter at my campus over three years ago.
College students are an obvious target in the War on Marijuana smokers. That said, marijuana-law reform is an issue that young people need to be concerned about. NORML campus chapters provide an outlet for students to organize, educate, and mobilize other students and the community to work for more sensible marijuana policies. The time is now, so get active, get organized, and get NORML!
To find out more about starting a campus chapter of NORML at your University, visit www.norml.org and click on CHAPTERS, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 888-67-NORML and ask to speak to me.