More than 200 Iowa State University students are expected to gather in Carver Hall Wednesday evening to show their support for the decriminalization of recreational marijuana use and the legalization of medicinal marijuana.
The ISU student chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is hosting its first large inaugural event 7 p.m. at 101 Carver Hall.
“Many of the leaders of the organization don't consume and have never consumed marijuana in their lives,” said ISU NORML Member Josh Montgomery, “This is a human rights issue and what makes sense for our state.”
During and after the NORML chapter's inaugural meeting, members plan to collect signatures for a petition that states that marijuana law reform should be a priority of the Iowa Legislature.
The group feels that people caught with small amounts of marijuana should receive a civil fine instead of a criminal penalty. They also want to legalize industrial hemp production.
“One of our biggest points is that we want to educate the public and change the stigma of a person who smokes marijuana,” Erin Furleigh, an ISU NORML member studying genetics said.
Furleigh said when they ask students to join the group some respond in a negative fashion saying something like, “I don't want to join your weed club.”
“We are not a weed club. We are a political activist organization and we want to maintain a professional identity and our representation is very important to us. If you want to join you have to be ready to debate and be professional,” she said.
A lot of people are pulled into the cause once they learn that a college student caught with the smallest amount of marijuana could lose all financial aid.
During the meeting, Gary Wells, of the university's psychology department, plans to explain how students at a prestigious university can change the way people view marijuana smokers, Furleigh said, saying that their chapter could become an example for other groups to follow.
Thomas Hill, VP of Student Affairs at Iowa State, and Dr. Eric Cooper, former libertarian candidate for Iowa governor, serve as advisers to the organization. Cooper, also a professor at ISU, has been in favor of decriminalizing most illegal substances starting with marijuana first.
“... Any policy change should proceed slowly,” Cooper wrote in campaign literature. “However, there are good reasons to suppose that legalizing marijuana would not result in greatly increased drug abuse. First, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic have marijuana legalized now and they don't have any substantial problems with it.”
Cooper doesn't plan on speaking during the meeting but will be present. This will be the first meeting where all members have been invited to attend, Montgomery said.
The ISU NORML chapter is one of the university's largest and fastest growing organizations boasting 280 members. And the organization has already received $10,000 in donations from the community.
At a recent Clubfest the organization gathered the names of 379 students interested in joining and if just half that amount signs up, the group will be the largest student group on campus, Furleigh said.
The organization launched in the spring of 2012, after founders including Montgomery, a sophomore engineering student, saw that there was no organized push for legislative marijuana reform in the state.
“We saw an opportunity to be the voice that so many Iowans were requesting,” Montgomery said.
Since that time, the group has also become the fastest growing club at ISU.
Members of the chapter said a lot of their club's growth sparked from a controversy surrounding their use of Cy, the Cyclone's mascot on an ISU NORML T-Shirt. The Des Moines Register published a photograph of the shirt and eventually ISU said the group could not use CY in future designs because the school didn't want to appear as though it was supporting a political position.
“I think we are going to change the world,” Montgomery said. “We already changed policy at our school and we didn't even try to.”
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