North Texas Daily

Veteran working to rebuild, strengthen NORML

Veteran working to rebuild, strengthen NORML

April 10
21:38 2013

Michelle Heath, Renee Hansen

Visuals Editor, Contributing Writer

In his third week of boot camp, Petty Officer Tristan Tucker received a letter from his mom. His dad was diagnosed with cancer. On verge of leaving, his chief gave him what Tucker said was the best pep talk of his life.

“He was like, ‘Think about this. You’re an 18-year-old with no education, no college and no money. What are you going to do? Are you going to work at Burger King and give them your $7 an hour? You can do this, stay in the Navy and get deployed.’ That’s what I did,” Tucker said.

With his Navy paycheck, Tucker gave his dad $10,000 for his medical bills and paid for his sister’s car. If he had left boot camp, he wouldn’t be in school today, Tucker said.

After getting out of the Navy, Tucker realized he didn’t understand why he was doing most of the things he was doing. Dissatisfied with the world around him, he decided to study political science. When he graduates, Tucker plans to go to law school and take the LSAT.

“I got into political science to go to law school because I realized you can’t change anything unless you’re part of the system,” Tucker said.

As a memory of what he almost left, Tucker’s left arm is covered in a colorful array of images depicting his service with the Navy.

From toe to collarbone, Tucker has endured 150 hours of tattoo work under the needle. Soon to join his collage of body art is a tattoo that reads NORML, a symbol of his life today.

Tucker, a 26-year-old political sophomore, took over as president of UNT’s chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws last spring. As president, he has helped draft legislation, coordinate events and advocate for medical marijuana rights in Texas.

Before Tucker was elected, members who were minors went into bars wearing NORML gear were being thrown out. National NORML contacted Tucker and told him if he wasn’t elected, the chapter would be shut down and given to him.

“It was pretty compelling and humbling to be given that opportunity,” Tucker said. “In the last year, we’ve come from being kicked out of bars to throwing a huge event in Denton [in March].”

Original founder of UNT NORML Larry Tally served as an intelligence analyst in the Navy for 21 years, and said he appreciates Tucker’s control of the organization.

Previously, Tally said he had to frequently check on the activity of the group, but since Tucker has taken over, he hasn’t had to worry.

“NORML is a metaphor for all of us to rally together and talk,” Tally said. “We’re going to change our community and change our state.”

UNT NORML hosted its Hip Hop at the Treehouse event on March 16, and more than 150 people attended. The nonprofit organization raised about $1,200 to be used to get new merchandise, raise awareness around campus and to support two Texas bills, HB 594 and HB 184.

HB 184 is the decriminalization of marijuana, while HB 594 strengthens the medical necessity law, giving a person who was charged and prosecuted for possession of medical necessity as a defense in court.

“The meds that they push at the VA have dangerous side effects that people know about,” said Antoyne Davis, public relations officer of NORML and Army veteran. “You can’t overdose on marijuana, but you can get all types of problems from these other drugs.”

The UNT NORML chapter will also host the Texas NORML Conference June 7 to 9 at the Norris Center in Fort Worth with speakers including Ron Paul and Gary Johnson.

But not all students are sold on the idea or NORML. Tucker is often approached by students on campus who disagree with his work. He believes traditional college students, age 19 to 25, were brainwashed by anti-drug programs and don’t know about marijuana research.

“I don’t personally agree with it just because of my own personal reasons,” said Shannon Burkett, Student Government Association director of campus involvement. “But I support them in the sense of trying to go down and change something and doing something they really believe in.”

UNT NORML, along with national NORML, does not advocate using marijuana or breaking the law. The goal of the chapter is to reform drug policy laws across the country, primarily for human rights reasons, Tucker said.

“It is immoral to lock a person in a cage for months or years at a time for using a substance that is more benign than alcohol or tobacco, harms nobody but themselves and is only illegal due to racist connotations,” Tucker said.

His dad has recovered from melanoma lymphoma, and Tucker is still lobbying legislators to support the Texas Medical Marijuana Act of 2013.

Since 1978, 36 states passed legislation allowing patients to use marijuana for certain disorders, according to medical marijuana reports.

“I think Texas will be one of the last states to legalize because it was one of the last states to outlaw slavery,” Davis said. “It tends to be that way on any issue.”

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