Dude, we should totally start a NORML chapter. Yeah!... wait, what?
November 28, 2006 1:28 PM   Subscribe

Can running a NORML chapter damage my career?

I've been a member of NORML for a long time and I've wished there was a NORML chapter near me for just as long. I've done lots of volunteer/non-profit work, but none of it towards social justice. I would start working on this immediately, except for one thing: I'm worried that this would hurt my career severely.

My job is programming, so it's not in the public eye but it's with a rather large corporation and I've been there 5 or so years. I've been moving up rather rapidly, am making loads of cash, wife, kid, nice house, and really have it made both now and for the foreseeable future.

Needless to say, I don't want to mess that up.

I seethe at the damage the War on MJ has caused this country and I don't feel like I can stand by any longer. However, I cannot deliberately sabotage the life I have built for my family on some quixotic quest either.

What sort of impressions would leading a NORML chapter have on a layman? What is the common perception of the marijuana legalization movement from the 'outside'? Could this possibly be viewed as a positive? Would this sort of stuff show up on a background check?
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Short answer is yes, it will damage your career if people find out.

Even if co-workers/others sympathize with you, it will be nearly impossible for them to do so publicly, precisely for the reasons you've stated above: they are worried for their career/family/etc. No one will come running to your defense if anything goes awry (workplace confrontation, etc) because of the ambiguity in terms of how people see participation in pro-Marijuana groups.

I think your risk is low, but if you don't want to mess up what you have going, stay on the sidelines.
posted by dead_ at 1:43 PM on November 28, 2006

The answer may depend on whether or not you would pass drug tests - people who learn of your involvement will assume your involvement means / is motivated by you being a user. If you can say/show otherwise, that could mitigate some of it, perhaps even swing the other way and make your motivation (and thus character) appear noble, rather than self-serving.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:51 PM on November 28, 2006

"that could mitigate some of it" meaning the "some of it" that happens to your face, which I'm guessing wouldn't be most of it :-/
posted by -harlequin- at 1:53 PM on November 28, 2006

Maybe be a puppet master to get the ball rolling - surely it must be possible to get something like this started without being the public face of it, or being named in the commitee meeting minutes or whathaveyou. Especially if you're willing to cover some starting operational costs (with cash :)

Even more respectable organisations, there are people who support and motivate them but don't have the time to be deeply involved themselves.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:58 PM on November 28, 2006

-harlequin-: this is not relevant to the poster's question, but are there a significant number of non-users in NORML? I'm a sympathetic non-user, so I'm not saying it's impossible, I'm just wondering how many people there are who are motivated enough to join and be involved, but aren't themselves users (or related to a medicinal user, for instance).
posted by spaceman_spiff at 1:59 PM on November 28, 2006

What a bummer, man. Where I live and work, this would be seen as okay to admirable, as long as you were visibly not a space-cadet, daily smoker type who forgets stuff when you're not high. People who have to be high to function creep professionals out. If this is you, keep it secret.

If I were you, I'd bring it up to persons you're concerned about before they are able to draw their own conclusions, and portray your involvement from a social programs, medical justifications and/or libertarian perspective, with perhaps a dash of "Whatever I do on the weekends is my business."
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:08 PM on November 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

posted by caddis at 2:18 PM on November 28, 2006

Well, if you're in Chicago, I'll join. Hell, I'll be a frontman and you can be Rasputin.
posted by rbs at 2:21 PM on November 28, 2006

Yes of course.

From an employers point of view, given three prospective employees and all other things being equal:
One - works part time at a rehab center helping people get free of drugs and alchohol
Two - apparently does nothing for the wider community beyond paying taxes
Three - works part time at an organization aimed at making it easier for more people to do more drugs

Whom do you think looks like yer best bet? (Hint, they're listed in order.)
posted by scheptech at 2:32 PM on November 28, 2006

If this gets out, it is likely to damage your career. Also, if you do well enough that you become high profile, there's a good chance you'll be arrested. For obvious reasons, the powers that be don't like people who threaten their prison-industrial-state gravy train. If you do go for it, don't smoke, and watch who you let in your house!

That said, the Drug War is one of the most important issues facing Americans today. If you decide you don't want to take the risk yourself, I suggest either finding a front man to run the chapter or donating to the Marijuana Policy Project. You might not want to stand front-and-center, but there's a lot you can do in circumspect...
posted by vorfeed at 2:43 PM on November 28, 2006

Having a responsible, gainfully-employed, family man heading NORML is good PR for the legalization movement. I don't mean to brush aside your very reasonable concerns about your career and your family, but you do seem like precisely the type of person that needs to speak out against the WoD. As long as it's a bunch of college kids and burnt-out hippies who are pressing for reform, it'll never happen. Good luck with whatever decision you make.

Also, I would suggest talking to your family about this (including your kids) if you haven't already, since this will affect them too. Explain to them why you think it's important and why it is potentially problematic. You might find that your family supports your decision more than you think.
posted by SBMike at 2:48 PM on November 28, 2006

NORML itself might be a good resource for this question. Talk with other heads of chapters, who I'm sure have all gone through the same concerns.
posted by SBMike at 2:51 PM on November 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Yep, it could definitely hurt your career.

I'll join if it's in NYC.
posted by Mentallo The Brain God at 2:51 PM on November 28, 2006

What if you started a blanket organization called the Pro Consumer Organic Pharmeceuticals Organization and used it as a front to accomplish your goals?
posted by mecran01 at 2:57 PM on November 28, 2006

Unless you're itching for a job with High Times, the answer is a resounding YES.

I'd take a different approach and give some of your "loads of cash" to them instead.
posted by LGCNo6 at 3:36 PM on November 28, 2006

You can limit the damages:

1. Brand yourself a libertarian and be against anything sane.

2. Claim drugs is just a small part of your libertarian pie.

3. When confronted make sure to play on the fiscal conservative part of libertarianism.

Or you could contact NORML themselves and ask them what they think. Theyre not hard to get a hold of.
posted by damn dirty ape at 3:52 PM on November 28, 2006

Not necessarily a problem. I work in IT at a big media company and I'm open to my immediate boss and co-workers about my financial and political support of MPP, which is a PAC counterpart to NORML. It really depends where you work. But perhaps my office is more laid back about political activities because we drug test everyone, and thus active support for decriminalization does not necessarily equal active usage.

Anyway, you are hardly the only techie who supports ending the Drug War. Only two things are best known for coming out of Berkeley in the 60's: one was UNIX, and the other was...
posted by Asparagirl at 5:06 PM on November 28, 2006

Maybe I'm naive but I don't think it would hurt your career. I agree with Asparagirl. I think there are a lot of sympathetic non-users like me out there and as long as you don't come off as a drugged-out flake, I think you'd be fine.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:20 PM on November 28, 2006

As much as I support NORML, years after giving up the recreational cloudiness of my youth, I wouldn't put my house and kids on the line by being the public face of a chapter.

Even if you don't keep smoke or paraphernalia in the house, do you want your wife and kids subjected to a raid search? Because being the head of a NORML chapter is likely to be considered "just cause" for a warrant in a lot of places. However, I've spent a whole lot of time in towns with a one sheriff fiefdom and 15 Fife-esque lackeys, so my sense of the justice system may be a little like something out of a Tennessee Williams production...

As to the career aspect, it's something that is likely to come up when anyone does a google search on your name. I would consider that a liability, but you may consider it a good way to weed out intolerant future employers.
posted by dejah420 at 9:15 PM on November 28, 2006

I'm curious what large company it would be- I've never heard of a tech-based large company that would even give two craps, but I suppose if you're a programmer in a large company in one of those old-boy industries where everyone still wears suits even to the company picnic, etc... I suppose it could be different for you.

I have a friend at Microsoft who has joked that her boss is overly informative about her sporadic weekend pot binges, and another who's best pot dealing contact was in a nearby department. One of the reasons organizations like NORML need to exist, and have public faces of respectable upstanding citizens, is so that the other upstanding respectable citizens who also dabble are less afraid to be public about their support.

I'd say it won't damage your career unless you already know you're at an uptight company where they'd care and consider it a bad image issue. Or to put it another way, are you at the kind of company that would fire you if you turned out to have a little BDSM kink on the weekends? It's easy for me to say fight the power when living in Seattle, home of Hempfest for god's sake, but if you think your company would throw a fit, and that it would be hard to find another comparable job at a company that wouldn't... you might want to contribute meaningfully but less publicly- contribute your time and money without your name.

That said, here's a pitch for being public about your beliefs: I'll echo what others have said, that a large part of the continuation of any of our silly Wars on ______ stem when people most poised to dispel easy stereotypes of the other group ______ refuse to do so. When the "opponents" of the War on Terra are just a bunch of hippie college kids, as opposed to say your high-income suburban friends and neighbors, or when the War on Drugs is just against negros and criminal elements... etc, etc. So if you feel strongly about your political beliefs, it is a moral and social imperative that you stand up for those beliefs: just take caution to prepare for the possibility that you'll have to find another job.

No good social change comes from people too timid to risk their own material largess for something they know is right. In a worst case scenario, you could always move to an area of the country ripe with good jobs for talented programmers and without the backwards social and cultural norms.
posted by hincandenza at 1:34 PM on November 29, 2006

Get a sackpuppet to run it for you.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:21 PM on November 29, 2006

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