North Texas Daily

Group advocates drug policy reform

Group advocates drug policy reform

Group advocates drug policy reform
October 14
00:01 2014

Christian Boschult / Contributing Writer

UNT was once home to a large chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, an organization that promotes the legalization of marijuana.

However, the organization shut down in 2013 because of a lack of student interest.

This semester, the UNT Young Americans for Liberty is holding meetings on the third Thursday of every month to advocate for drug policy reform. The meetings are at 5 p.m. in Wooten Hall, room 216, organization president Dustin Lane said. 

The meetings will fill a void that UNT NORML left behind.

“What we wanted to do is to raise awareness about drug reform, which is a huge policy of ours within our group, by creating a meeting once a month where we have sensible drug reform speakers come in and discussions,” Lane said.

The meetings are a sub-committee of UNT YAL with a goal of raising awareness for drug reform, because there’s not currently a drug advocacy group on campus, Lane said.

“There isn’t a Students for Sensible Drug Policy and there isn’t a UNT NORML,” he said. “What we want to do is create meetings and create a culture to the point where we think there are leaders that want to start an SSDP chapter or start a NORML group chapter.”

Lane said the current drug policy is flawed because it punishes people who are guilty of what he says are victimless crimes.

“What we want to do is, kind of, create a culture that actually tries to endorse rehabilitation within punishment,” Lane said. “If you’re going to punish a drug offender, you send him to jail. When he comes out of jail e’s obviously not rehabilitated. If anything, he resorts to more violence, more gang-related activities, more illegal activities.”

Tristan Tucker, Deputy Director of DFW’s NORML chapter and former president of UNT NORML, has been working to legalize, or at least decriminalize, marijuana in Texas.

Tucker is a Navy veteran who served in South America between Panama and Costa Rica, where he witnessed the drug war fought at the ground level.

“I left the military with a host of medical conditions, and a friend of mine turned me on to book that I read about a bunch of mental diagnoses being able to be treated with marijuana, so I figured I’d give it a try, and it pretty much prompted me to get involved with changing the public perception on it,” Tucker said. 

NORML is partnering with the Marijuana Policy Project and several other drug policy advocacy groups to decriminalize marijuana in Texas, in addition to legalizing it for medicinal use.

“Since this coalition formed, we’ve got a private donor out of California who’s guaranteed matching funds, dollar for dollar,” Tucker said. “So we’ve raised $70,000 in a year, grassroots, all grassroots fundraising. So our fundraising goal total is about $140,000 to legalize next year.”

The Marijuana Policy Project has hired a lobbyist to help pass decriminalization and legalization of marijuana for medicinal use. It’s the first time a lobbyist has ever been hired to work for a marijuana advocacy group in Texas, Tucker said.

“The guy that we hired was a former lobbyist for law enforcement, so he knows that side of the battle that we’re facing,” he said.

He said the coalition is introducing three bills to the state legislature. One bill for full legalization of marijuana, one for legalized medicinal use, and another for decriminalization, which would change the penalties for marijuana-related crimes to be comparable to a traffic ticket.

“We know that decriminalization is going to pass,” Tucker said. “If I had to give you a percentage, I’d say [I’m] about 85 percent positive that we’ll decriminalize next year. Which is a great step in the right direction.”

Tucker is also confident about the prospects of passing a medicinal marijuana bill next year.

“When it comes to medical, I’m about 50-to-60 percent sure that we’ll pass it next year,” Tucker said. “We’re coming out with a bunch of sick kids and a lot of sick vets that have joined us over the last year, and we’re actually getting ready to open up another billboard right now and do another marijuana march in October.”

Tucker said that NORML has a lot of support on the U.S. and Texas campuses where chapters have been established.

“We have a huge chapter at UTA NORML that’s doing a lot of really good things and they have great outreach,” Tucker said. “We also have chapters at Sam Houston, UT and Rice [University] and a couple other colleges.”

Kaitlyn Lamb, Young Americans for Liberty member and speech language pathology major, is a supporter of drug policy reform.

“The drug war really is just kind of ridiculous at this point,” she said. “If you look at the numbers, it just doesn’t make any sense, at so many different levels. It makes zero sense.”

She said the group is concerned with awareness.

“For us, it’s about getting that message out there and helping people get reliable information about what’s going on, because not everybody really realizes what’s going on,” Lamb said. “They’re not really aware of the costs to each citizen.”

Featured Illustration by Jake Bowerman – Senior Staff Illustrator

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