- Why were you motivated to apply to intern with NORML?
- Cristen: I have been a long-time supporter of NORML and their efforts protecting marijuana consumers and ending marijuana prohibition. As the wife of an Army veteran who utilizes marijuana medicinally, I wanted to expand my knowledge of the legislative process and how states are establishing legal medical marijuana markets. Additionally, after spending time volunteering with the NAACP and the ACLU, I also saw how marijuana prohibition disproportionally affects marginalized communities and adds to the mass incarceration problem in the U.S. I wanted to be a part of the effort that works toward ending racial disparities amongst marijuana consumers and I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the state and federal efforts being made to clear the criminal records of first-time, non-violent, low-level marijuana offenders. NORML was a place I felt I could gain that knowledge.
- Audrey: I started dosing cannabis years ago to treat chronic pain and mental health conditions. It was incredible how much symptom relief it provided—how much more I could enjoy my life—and I started to realize how many family members and friends were also silently consuming marijuana for similar reasons. Unfortunately, the reprieve provided by cannabis is undermined by the ever-present fear of criminal penalties for its consumption. It’s important to point out that living in Kentucky, one of the few remaining states without access to a medical cannabis program, let alone a regulated adult-use market, my fears as a white person regarding marijuana prohibition are very different than those held by the Black and Brown communities disproportionately targeted by law enforcement. In 2018, Kentucky was ranked the #2 state in the nation for racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests with an average Black/White arrest rate ratio more than double the national average. I was prompted to apply for the NORML internship because of the inequity and injustice of cannabis prohibition under federalism–tens of thousands of innocent people remain imprisoned in this country for marijuana offenses at the federal and state level, yet so many other states now regulate a legal cannabis marketplace and offer expungement programs. I’ve always been interested in learning about and enacting policy to provide restorative justice for disenfranchised and marginalized communities. Working for NORML has been a great opportunity to do so through a marijuana-reform lens.
- What did your day-to-day routine look like?
- Audrey & Cristen: Every day was a little different, which was fantastic. We also had some consistent tasks, which provided a nice balance between excitement and stability. An average day would consist of morning tasks—usually updating our tracked and monitored legislation, combing through newly filed legislation, checking on committee hearings, compiling media hits, and addressing other miscellaneous organizational matters. This was all for state legislation, since so many state legislatures are in session in the Spring. Then we’d typically communicate with our policies team for the day’s priorities and tackle important projects at that point. We worked on all kinds of assignments, from editing reports to collecting data to drafting testimonies and actions to updating the website, and that hardly scratches the surface. The great thing about the staff at NORML is how openly communicative everyone is, so even if we had multiple projects in addition to daily tasks, we could always reach out to someone if we were overwhelmed or needed help. This was especially key because there was so much fluctuation in our days—we’re dependent on states, their hectic sessions, and often detailed, nuanced legislation, so our work follows suit. Once state sessions calmed down, we were able to transition to other projects that interested us, especially things like federal legislative research, policy meetings, and even graphic design projects. As interns, the most important part of successfully maintaining the workload was correspondence with one another. Clear communication and task division were critical to handling a busy work day with ever-changing priorities. Our teamwork and adaptability made this experience all the more productive, rewarding, and enjoyable.
- Did the internship meet and/or exceed your expectations? How has it impacted your next steps?
- Cristen: This internship exceeded my expectations. Spring is very busy because so many state legislatures are in session! I wrongly assumed I would be tasked with typical intern office administrative duties, but instead I was given important assignments such as tracking pending cannabis legislation for each state, drafting Action Alerts, and drafting testimonies for various hearings. I was provided multiple opportunities to take on side projects such as creating various spreadsheets, updating the NORML website, and creating fact sheets. Each of these tasks helped me to gain a better understanding of how the legislative process works and how bills get passed! This was not necessarily the type of work I’d foresee myself doing in the future, but I have really grown to love being involved in this process. I loved being a part of the NORML team and I have truly enjoyed working in cannabis policy. I would be proud to continue working in this field in the future.
- Audrey: Interning with NORML definitely exceeded my expectations. I can echo Cristen’s statement that I anticipated the stereotypical intern experience—doing busy work, administrative tasks, bottom of the barrel type things—but we were given critical responsibilities for the function of the organization. I felt respected by the staff and I felt that my opinions really mattered to my team. Each member of the staff went out of their way to ensure that we were heard, that we had the opportunity to provide feedback, and that we were able to work on tasks that genuinely interested us. I came into this position expecting a fun and instructive experience that might help me determine my career interests—and I was met with an engaging, in-depth, highly educational semester filled with important work (but still great fun with the staff). I didn’t necessarily anticipate wanting to stay in drug policy reform, but enjoyed the work so much that I’ll be interning with Drug Policy Alliance this summer to learn about expanded decriminalization and criminal/policing reform. I believe that you get out of this experience what you’re willing to put into it, so if you want an internship to exceed your expectations, do your best to make it happen! The folks at NORML will certainly be there to offer anything they can.
- What was it like to work in a hybrid position in Washington, D.C.?
- Cristen: Most interns come to D.C. and live in a group-housing situation which can be overstimulating, so working in a hybrid position was a perfect balance for me. With our two virtual meetings on Monday, you still get face-to-face time with the team without having to commute to the office. The two days a week in the office were a blast. It was really fun to be downtown and work in the office where you can build relationships in-person and get to know everyone on a more personal level. There is a metro station very close, as well as easy access to the public bus. There are several great spots to grab lunch nearby- some of my favorites were Immigrant Food, The Best Sandwich Place and Joe & The Juice. Franklin Park is right next door to the office and it’s a beautiful spot to eat if you bring your own lunch or if you just want some fresh air!
- Audrey: The hybrid set-up was another aspect of interning for NORML that exceeded my expectations. I had many concerns at the onset of the semester about living in a new place with new people and starting a new job—which are of course very valid concerns—but luckily none were too overwhelming in reality. We started fully remote, which helped me ease into the work, and then gradually began going into the office one to two days per week. This ended up being a perfect situation. The first month of virtual work allowed me to find a good routine for the day’s tasks, get to know Cristen (we even scheduled Zoom calls among ourselves to better split up tasks and talk through new projects), and learn the ins and outs of the job. At the point when we started going into the office, I was already comfortable with my responsibilities and communicating with our team, so it really wasn’t a big hurdle to overcome. The way we eased into DC life was fantastic! There is so much about coming to DC as an intern that’s daunting and seems impossible to handle, and while that may be true, having an office that really cares about your well-being, success, and comfort will make all the difference.
- If you could give any advice to new NORML interns, what would you say?
- Cristen: I think it’s incredibly important to be adaptable and flexible in this role. You will have a day-to-day checklist, but the daily needs can shift with little to no notice according to the needs of state legislators or the needs of the NORML state chapters. It’s important to be able to prioritize your time and the tasks given in order to meet various, and sometimes immediate, deadlines. You will need to be able to multitask so you can tune in and listen to the daily hearings while you are working on your projects. It’s tricky at first, but it will get easier! Communication is key; take advantage of the ‘open door policy’ and don’t be afraid to ask questions! Someone from the NORML team is always available to help you be successful in your role. Make sure to treat your intern partner as your teammate. It’s critical to share the tasks so everyone benefits as much as possible, you will need each other! NORML will give you a ton of hands-on experience. Take advantage of understanding the importance of the tasks given to you and you will leave your internship having learned so much.
- Audrey: First and foremost, I’m going to repeat myself and say that you get out of the experience what you put in. If you’re here to learn a bit and delve into some legislative tasks, that’s exactly what you’ll do. If you’re here to learn as much as possible and take on as much as you can, you’ll do just that. Again, the NORML staff are trustworthy and respectful; if you demonstrate your eagerness to take on critical tasks, you’ll absolutely reap the benefits. Second, I want to highlight how crucial it is to form a good relationship with any other interns you may be working with. I’ve mentioned this frequently in just five short questions, but the way Cristen and I developed a course of action and aligned our goals for the semester really made a big difference in how much we accomplished and learned. Finally, I’d recommend leaning into the experience. Do research into the organization, develop objectives for your time here, and have fun! There are plenty of things to do here in DC to further immerse yourself into this work, such as going to the DEA museum in Arlington (expect intense security) or visiting one of the many cannabis “gifting” shops to talk to folks in the local cannabis industry. Take advantage of being on staff with incredibly intelligent, passionate, and well-connected advocates, many of whom have stories you’ll really want to hear. NORML plays such a key role in marijuana reform history, and a few months is not nearly enough time to soak it all in. So make the most of it!