Sunday, February 18, 2007

News: Next Semester, is NORML in the Bag or Up in Smoke?

By Liz Garber-Paul

Unless someone steps up soon, the New School's chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) will disappear at the end of this school year. Since its inception in fall 2005, the group has been the efforts of virtually one student, Brandon Rist, a senior.

“It’s pretty much just me doing everything myself,” Rist said.

Meetings usually consist of him spouting a recap of his efforts over the week.

“I’m sure it’s probably my fault, too,” he added. “I’m trying to generate interest. I’m trying to get people more involved in more of the process. Because I have a feeling, the way things are now, as soon as Alex and I graduate it will probably just fizzle.”

There are over 60 names on the group’s e-mail list, but that isn’t brightening spirits. Vice President Alex Waddell—who is graduating along with Rist at the end of the semester—doesn’t know what the fate of the club will be, either.

“I am hoping that somebody will step up and lead the organization, and there’s a possibility of that,” Waddell said. “But right now, we don’t know of anybody that’s willing to do that. A lot of people are really enthusiastic but they don’t want to take leadership roles.”

With a school full of activists (and a courtyard that smells “funny” a lot of the time) why isn’t anyone stepping up?

NORML was founded in 1970 to bolster public opinion in an effort to repeal the prohibition of marijuana. They are a national organization with 135 chapters and a membership that includes over 500 lawyers. Willie Nelson, Tommy Chong and Bill Maher are also currently members.

Thankfully, in New York City, drug laws are not as severe as in other parts of the country. In New York, according to NORML’s *Guide to State Marijuana Laws*, a first time offender with 25 grams or less will face a $100 fine and a civil citation—the same treatment as a minor traffic ticket.

When Rist first formed the group, he saw the need to focus meetings to address the specific needs of Lang students.

“Originally we were planning on doing more lobbying and more on that sort of angle of things and realistically, there’s not much to complain about in New York,” Rist said. “We’re trying to refocus the goal to be kind of campus education. To let people know the different rules on the different states, and to better protect people who wish to smoke.”

Last year, they handed out cards around campus that detailed what to and what not to say if stopped by the police. It was their biggest undertaking, Waddel said.

Rist has a plan to draw interest to the club—and perhaps save it from his departure. Sometime this semester, he will invite former Baltimore police officer Peter Moskos to discuss the war on drugs. The Evanston, Illinois native spent 1999 through 2001 working the graveyard shift in Baltimore’s Eastern District (see HBO’s *The Wire*). He left the force, and received his PhD in Sociology from Harvard in 2004. He has since been a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Brandon found Moskos through LEAP—Law Enforcement Against Prohibition—an organization that believes drugs, like alcohol, should be controlled instead of criminalized. Moskos plans to speak about the way in which the War on Drugs is affecting minorities in urban environments. While the “war” is supposed to curb the illegal drug trade, the harsh laws have had adverse effects on already impoverished areas.

As of now, there is no set time for NORML meetings. Rist is working on scheduling a time for Moskos to speak at the university. Until NORML hammers out a plan for next fall, he urges students to be content with his advice: if a cop walks up to you, eat the joint.
"NORML: Up in Smoke?"

Unless someone steps up soon, the New School's chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) will disappear at the end of this school year. Since its inception in fall 2005, the group has been the efforts of virtually one student, Brandon Rist, a senior.

“It’s pretty much just me doing everything myself,” Rist said.

Meetings usually consist of him spouting a recap of his efforts over the week.

“I’m sure it’s probably my fault, too,” he added. “I’m trying to generate interest. I’m trying to get people more involved in more of the process. Because I have a feeling, the way things are now, as soon as Alex and I graduate it will probably just fizzle.”

There are over 60 names on the group’s e-mail list, but that isn’t brightening spirits. Vice President Alex Waddell—who is graduating along with Rist at the end of the semester—doesn’t know what the fate of the club will be, either.

“I am hoping that somebody will step up and lead the organization, and there’s a possibility of that,” Waddell said. “But right now, we don’t know of anybody that’s willing to do that. A lot of people are really enthusiastic but they don’t want to take leadership roles.”

With a school full of activists (and a courtyard that smells “funny” a lot of the time) why isn’t anyone stepping up?

NORML was founded in 1970 to bolster public opinion in an effort to repeal the prohibition of marijuana. They are a national organization with 135 chapters and a membership that includes over 500 lawyers. Willie Nelson, Tommy Chong and Bill Maher are also currently members.

Thankfully, in New York City, drug laws are not as severe as in other parts of the country. In New York, according to NORML’s Guide to State Marijuana Laws, a first time offender with 25 grams or less will face a $100 fine and a civil citation—the same treatment as a minor traffic ticket.

When Rist first formed the group, he saw the need to focus meetings to address the specific needs of Lang students.

“Originally we were planning on doing more lobbying and more on that sort of angle of things and realistically, there’s not much to complain about in New York,” Rist said. “We’re trying to refocus the goal to be kind of campus education. To let people know the different rules on the different states, and to better protect people who wish to smoke.”

Last year, they handed out cards around campus that detailed what to and what not to say if stopped by the police. It was their biggest undertaking, Waddel said.

Rist has a plan to draw interest to the club—and perhaps save it from his departure. Sometime this semester, he will invite former Baltimore police officer Peter Moskos to discuss the war on drugs. The Evanston, Illinois native spent 1999 through 2001 working the graveyard shift in Baltimore’s Eastern District (see HBO’s *The Wire*). He left the force, and received his PhD in Sociology from Harvard in 2004. He has since been a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Brandon found Moskos through LEAP—Law Enforcement Against Prohibition—an organization that believes drugs, like alcohol, should be controlled instead of criminalized. Moskos plans to speak about the way in which the War on Drugs is affecting minorities in urban environments. While the “war” is supposed to curb the illegal drug trade, the harsh laws have had adverse effects on already impoverished areas.

As of now, there is no set time for NORML meetings. Rist is working on scheduling a time for Moskos to speak at the university. Until NORML hammers out a plan for next fall, he urges students to be content with his advice: if a cop walks up to you, eat the joint.

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