What’s It Like to Intern with NORML?

Christopher Handwerger
Christopher Handwerger, NORML Intern

1. Why were you motivated to apply to intern with NORML?

a. Christopher: I’ve known NORML, or about NORML, for forever. Okay, maybe not quite forever, but since I began using cannabis. NORML’s website has long been a reference point for me when it came to educating myself or protecting myself and those I care about, as well as when I was doing academic research. Plus, I truly believe in NORML’s aims; that is, I too know how arbitrary cannabis prohibition is, how profoundly harmful it has been, especially  to minority communities, and I am both personally and ideologically invested in bringing prohibition and the War on Drugs to an end. What is a better opportunity than to fight for some of the changes I want to see then to get the chance to intern at NORML? I saw that interning here was an opportunity to make an impact, work on something I have a personal interest in, and learn something all in one.

2. What did your day-to-day routine look like?

a. Christopher: Honestly, it varied quite a bit from day-to-day, but there were always some mainstays. Every morning, I’d sort through the newly introduced marijuana-related legislation that was coming out of state houses around the country and try to figure out which bills would most greatly impact cannabis consumers. Then I’d move on to drafting action alerts that would go on to be sent to lawmakers thousands of times. I also got to work on various other projects, which ranged from visiting congressional offices to monitoring state legislative hearings, to updating bits and pieces of the website. Essentially, every day was different. But in-office days were definitely the most enjoyable; the coffee and metro commute, followed by settling into the office for the day and getting at it on the computer, was always a good start.

3. Did the internship meet and/or exceed your expectations? How has it impacted your next steps?

a. Christopher: I don’t know if I can properly express just how much I learned while I was here at NORML. So with regard to my expectations for learning, I can confidently say that they were far exceeded. I didn’t just learn about cannabis, but I also learned about the intersection of cannabis, policy, lawmaking, and public opinion. And there was always knowledge that NORML’s Deputy Director  Paul Armentano was willing and able to share with me, and from him I learned quite a lot. 

My coworkers at NORML were exceedingly open, honest, understanding, communicative, and supportive. So, again, my expectations were exceeded immensely. In terms of the work, I would say that it met my expectations, but it also provided me with some additional skills that I didn’t foresee this internship resulting in.  

4. What was it like to work in a hybrid position in Washington, D.C.?

NORML Office
The interns’ office at NORML on K Street in Washington, DC

a. Christopher: I am a born-and-raised Washingtonian, so the hybrid nature of the position allowed me to, many days, get my work done as well as take advantage of the flexibility of working from home to do other important things away from the office. For example, when my Grandmother was hospitalized, I was able to visit her quite often over the course of the time she was there on account of this being a hybrid position. On the other hand, coming into the office fostered a sense of community that a purely remote internship would have made impossible, and allowed for me to get to know the people of NORML on a far deeper and much more personal level than I would have otherwise. Plus, DC is such a beautiful city filled with so many great places to post up and get some work done. So on remote days, I got to explore some of the libraries and cafes of the city to do work in. Working hybrid in DC was, in short, awesome. 

5. If you could give any advice to new NORML interns, what would you say?

a. Christopher: Enjoy it. Learn as much as you can and connect with everyone you can. Take advantage of the sheer intelligence of many of the NORML staff, as well as the people outside of NORML that they work with. Don’t get discouraged by massive influxes of new legislation that you have to read through and decipher; it isn’t nearly as hard after you’ve done it a bit as it is at the beginning. Also, make the intern nook in the NORML office personalized and more cozy; it already is cozy, but adding a personal touch is one little thing I would have done differently. Last but not least, gain as much as you can from the experience embodied in the people you work with and under. They all know what they are doing and know what they are talking about, and whether it is general life stuff, career advice, talk of strains, or the Prison Industrial Complex. They’ve got a lot to teach you.