Back-to-School Advice for Student Activists
Millions of students are at their college campuses for another year of lectures, exams, student activities and partying. As a recent graduate of Purdue University, I’m definitely aware of the pros and cons of campus life. Here’s a a useful list of do’s and don’ts for student activists:
This is absolutely the most important advice I can offer: You can’t be an activist on your campus if you get busted and kicked out of school. It’s also harder to be taken seriously if a majority of the campus has seen you in handcuffs. So if you live in a prohibition state, be safe. Don’t smoke in the dorms, don’t openly consume on campus and never puff while driving. Take it from someone who was caught and got lucky: Put your education first, and getting high second.
Use the Internet to learn as much as you can about cannabis reform. There are countless arguments for ending prohibition, and anyone can become a knowledgeable activist simply by doing research online. Some good starting points are sites like NORML.org and SSDP.org, and publications like Jack Herer’s The Emperor Wears No Clothes—and, of course, Freedom Leaf magazine.
Doing simple things like attending sporting events, going to student government meetings and joining student clubs can dramatically increase your network of local activists. This also helps you interact with many groups of people and spread the message of cannabis reform to a diverse audience.
It’s hard to convince people that marijuana is nothing to be ashamed of when you won’t openly advocate for it on campus. In the era of legalization, upstanding college students who wouldn’t normally be associated with marijuana are needed to be out-front activists. One of the best things you can do is talk about cannabis reform with your friends and fellow students in everyday settings—at lunch, in the dorm or just walking around campus. If you’re comfortable speaking about the subject and treat it like any other of your interests, you’ll find that other people will follow your lead.
Just because you’re involved in marijuana reform, people automatically assume things about you. Some stoner stereotypes are okay, like always being happy, chill or relaxed. But other stereotypes—being lazy, stupid or a “druggie”—aren’t as easy to swallow. My advice is to be a shining example of the opposite of a stereotypical stoner: Be involved on campus, pay attention in class, get good grades and don’t be the one who always smells like weed in the lecture hall. This doesn’t mean you can’t listen to Bob Marley or watch SpongeBob SquarePants when you’re high, but just beware of the negative stereotype associated with cannabis. The better you present yourself, the better people will view marijuana activism.
No one likes constantly being bombarded with claims about how amazing marijuana is. Being passionate about cannabis reform is one thing, but being annoying about it is another. Be ready and willing to talk about activism and to take people slightly outside of their comfort zone. But don’t push it if they aren’t responsive, and don’t get all up in their face if they disagree with you. The best way to handle being called a stoner or a pothead is to have a levelheaded response ready, backed up with facts and research. If they still don’t agree, smile and tell them to have a good day. Being rude only hurts the legalization cause.
Every activist has been there: Your monthly meeting had less than 10 people show up. A group walked by your booth, laughing and pointing. An instructor has a preconceived idea about your academic performance based on your activism work. It’s times like these when you can have second thoughts about being a marijuana advocate. But in those moments, remember why you’re an activist in the first place. Millions of Americans have had their lives ruined by marijuana prohibition. Thousands of patients are unable to get the medicine they need because the government won’t allow them access. Our veterans are suffering from PTSD and chronic pain, but most can’t legally use medical marijuana. These, and many more, are the reasons why you’re an activist. Never lose hope, and never give up the fight until marijuana is fully legalized.
If you’re not already involved with a college activism group, find your local SSDP or NORML chapter. If there isn’t an active chapter on your campus, do what I did and start one yourself. I can say with absolute certainty that founding the NORML chapter at Purdue was one of the best decisions I ever made.And one more thing: Your time at college can be the best years of your life, so don’t forget to have fun while you’re out there being a marijuana activist.
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