1. Why were you motivated to apply to intern with NORML?
a. Sam: About a year ago I started working at a medical cannabis dispensary in D.C., and since then I’ve met countless people whose lives have been vastly improved by marijuana use. Seeing all the benefits of cannabis beyond recreational use showed me the importance of both legalization and of legalizing properly – with equity provisions, support for small cannabis businesses, expungement, and more. I wanted to expand on what I knew about cannabis, and learn ways that real change could be advocated for and achieved. As a medical cannabis patient myself, it is important to me to advocate for those who had been punished for marijuana crimes as I used it to ease pains of my own. These goals led me to my internship with NORML, as it seemed like the best place to grow my knowledge and do real work to help create change.
b. Ella: This summer was the perfect opportunity to concentrate on the election season and assist NORML in influencing the public’s support for marijuana reform. Marijuana is a fascinating issue being discussed now more than ever in American politics. In states like Maryland where I’m from, I’ve witnessed how marijuana and the issues surrounding it have become more openly deliberated within local and state politics. Yet lawmakers and voters still seem to be out of touch with one another, which is why I think NORML’s role in changing marijuana laws is incredibly important to identifying better solutions.
Lobbying for policies to protect people over businesses in the industry is something I care deeply about and another reason I was drawn to the organization. These kinds of conflicts in the policy agenda led me to discover how marijuana laws can be improved to address the life-changing economic barriers that result from marijuana convictions.
Working for a non-profit consumer advocacy organization like NORML appealed to me because I was most curious about the different policy proposals or solutions needed to address various issues surrounding cannabis. Even though I had some prior knowledge about marijuana laws, I desired to understand the problems more in-depth. Being a part of an organization committed to helping the people most harmed by cannabis prohibition gave me a greater sense of purpose and meaning through the work I contributed. Their organizational values and commitment to advocating for the civil liberties of cannabis consumers is another reason why I was attracted to apply.
2. What did your day-to-day routine look like?
a. Sam: Every day was different, which made each day its own journey. Typically I’d start the day by recording new developments in state-level cannabis legislation or tracking whether any new legislation was introduced. The rest of the day usually consisted of either drafting action alerts to be posted on NORML’s website, watching state or federal hearings on cannabis legislation, or doing research into different aspects of cannabis policy. For a good chunk of the summer, we worked on Smoke the Vote, NORML’s voter guide, updating it with various legislators and candidates for office’s positions on marijuana legalization. Based on their sponsorships and votes on cannabis legislation over the past few years, as well as comments they had made regarding legalization, medical use, and other aspects of potential cannabis law. It was a daunting task, but filling it in over the course of the summer for congressional, governor, and state legislature races provided a big sense of accomplishment, as well as a good idea of the political landscape around cannabis in various states and Congress.
b. Ella: Every day at NORML started with first completing my morning checklist, my task was to search for quotes and references to the organization in the media and enter them into a tracking spreadsheet. Reading marijuana news was a nice start to my mornings. After they were entered in I would select the articles most notable whether it was a quote from USA Today or The Washington Post, then I would post the best headlines to the website. Bug fixing and updating older blog posts on the website was another task I worked on every day. It was interesting to get familiar with NORML’s website content, including a timeline of cannabis policy updates archived since the 1990s.
Our intern cohort was entrusted with several big projects during the summer. Our supervisors were always very clear when giving directions and always made themselves available to answer questions. I liked the workload we were given because we had smaller daily tasks on top of long-term projects which made it easier to understand our expectations in the day. I felt a huge sense of responsibility and ownership for the projects handed to me because NORML genuinely values and depends on the work interns do for them. Communicating and working closely with the other interns helped the projects go by a lot faster, and it was really fun getting working with others as a team. I preferred being able to collaborate with my coworkers in a small office setting because it was easy to communicate with one another.
3. Did the internship meet and/or exceed your expectations? How has it impacted your next steps?
a. Sam: The internship definitely met my expectations. I was not only able to expand my knowledge of cannabis advocacy and law, but was able to do substantive work every day. Unfortunately, many internships can lead to nonessential work being done, but here each assignment came with an explanation of how it would be useful to the organization. This helped me feel like I was doing useful work, while also giving me a better understanding of how an advocacy organization runs, and what aspects of cannabis policy are prevalent and why. Even when there was nothing to do on a given day, we were given assignments intended to help us learn about marijuana policy, ensuring that every day was a learning experience. Because of all this, this internship has solidified my interest in drug policy advocacy as something I want to pursue going forward.
b. Ella: This was my first professional internship at an organization like NORML, and it did exceed my expectations because of how much I took away from this experience. I was taught new skills like learning how to use different software platforms and I attained greater knowledge about the political process. The work environment at NORML encouraged me to challenge myself intellectually but also think creatively in the research and legislative topics I wrote about. My time here has encouraged me to keep pursuing a career in government and lobbying, but also continue to advocate for marijuana decriminalization and legalization in my spare time. I hope when I return for another semester of college I can take the knowledge I gained at NORML and apply it to my studies in American public policy. Because of my internship, I’m also considering applying to work at other organizations dedicated to advocating for drug reform and promoting more compassionate public health policies.
4. What was it like to work in a hybrid position in Washington, D.C.?
a. Sam: Working in a hybrid position was perfect for me. Going into the office allowed me to meet people and make connections that would not have been nearly as strong otherwise, and the days working remotely gave me a bit of a break from the busy days that come with living in a city. I had an additional part time job throughout the course of the internship, and working hybrid allowed me to get the most out of my time at NORML without overexerting myself. Working in the office made it feel all the more real, and having a day or two a week to work from home helped me settle into living in a new apartment while being busy with my internship and part-time job. Commuting made things feel real, but working from home made it so that I didn’t have to worry about commuting every day.
b. Ella: Working from home and going into the office was a good balance at NORML, I got to experience Washington D.C. while also having some down time at home during the week. I enjoyed taking the bus into the city and looking for local coffee shops to sit in near the office before the workday started. My favorite place to pass the time was Joe and the Juice, which is only a block away from NORML’s office. It was also nice to work in the comfort of my home and get a few extra hours of sleep on the days we worked virtually. For my internship I worked 4.5/5 days of the week so the hybrid schedule worked well since I didn’t have to spend time getting to the office on the other days. The commuter buses in Maryland and Virginia are a great way to get around the area and they take the burden of driving into the city off your hands. The ease of the commute inspired me to keep pursuing other organizations in D.C. in the future because the buses are an affordable and convenient way to go into the city.
5. If you could give any advice to new NORML interns, what would you say?
a. Sam: I would suggest you try to learn as much as you can! There are so many opportunities to learn in this internship, but because there are so many, sometimes you have to be proactive and choose areas of cannabis policy to learn about what you’re interested in. Because there’s so much to learn and so much opportunity to do so, you have to make the most of it. Whether it’s expungement, medical use, housing rights, or whatever other aspect of cannabis policy you might be interested in, there is plenty of opportunity to learn, even if you think you know it. There are books everywhere in the office – make sure to read them!
b. Ella: Like I said before, it’s important to establish clear communication with your colleagues when you’re working together but it will most likely be easier if there are in-person conversations or meetings over Zoom so you can review everything for projects. Online communication can sometimes be inefficient and confusing for others so I recommend getting the numbers of your fellow interns and supervisors to coordinate more closely. It’s also good to initiate lunch as a group even if that’s going out of your comfort zone because you more than likely have a few things in common with other people who are passionate about cannabis. Everyone at NORML wants you to succeed so make the most of it!