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Pot Law Activist a Leader at 22

Posted by NORML NJ on Friday, November 30, 2012

Only 22, East Brunswick's Evan Nison oversees the New Jersey chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) as its Executive Director.

Only 22, East Brunswick's Evan Nison oversees the New Jersey chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) as its Executive Director. / Rachel Philipson/The Ithaca Times.

Written by Everett Merrill @EverettMerrill

Marijuana reform and espionage don’t seem to go together, but that’s not how Rick Cusick sees it.

The chairman of the New Jersey chapter for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) views Evan Nison as a modern-day 007.

“Evan is one of the best activists I have seen in my life,” said Cusick of NORML’s new executive director, a volunteer position. “He doesn’t stop. He’s tenacious.

“He’s kind of like the James Bond of marijuana law reform.”

That’s high praise for a guy who was born long after Sean Connery relinquished the big-screen role as 007.

Nison is a 22-year-old senior in his last semester studying business administration at Ithaca College in upstate New York. The East Brunswick native has been on NORML’s radar screen since he was a local organizer four years ago in New Brunswick, advocating for marijuana to be legalized.

He became the statewide campus organizer for California’s Proposition 19 marijuana legalization campaign, where he led the “Get Out the Vote” effort on more than 40 college campuses across California.

Nison has also been president of his school’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) for four years. His spirited efforts resulted in Ithaca College’s SSDP chapter being rated as the top marijuana law reform chapter in the nation by NORML.

He became involved in the political process four years ago when he was intrigued by the initiatives and referendums on the ballot in various New Jersey municipalaties.

"I immediately knew I wanted to try one (initiatives and referendums)," he said. "At first I did research on a number of issues that effect students and young people, things like education reform, student rights, and sustainability issues.

"I decided that I could make the biggest impact working on drug law reform."

There is no doubt Nison has the energy and passion to drive a controversial issue, but does he have the maturity to deal consistently with older lawmakers and lobbyists?

Cusick isn’t concerned.

“At first everyone who came in contact with him (Nison) said how young he is,” Cusick said. “Then as time went on and they got to know him, they stopped saying that.

“He’s going to bring a level of energy and professionalism to our organization that will be needed as we move into a new era of marijuana law reform in New Jersey. While you’re sleeping, he’s working. His focus is unbelievable.”

One of Nison’s first tasks will be to mobilize support for New Jersey’s marijuana decriminalization bill that passed in the Assembly in June, but that Gov. Chris Christie has promised to veto when and if it reaches his desk.

The bill, which still needs Senate approval, would make possession of 15 grams of marijuana or less a minor civil offense similar to a parking ticket. Fines would range from $150 to $500, with mandatory drug education classes for repeat offenders. The current fine for marijuana possession is $1,000 and violators face up to six months in jail.

“The federal government still says marijuana is an illegal drug,” Christie said in a town hall meeting soon after the bill passed the Assembly, 44-30. “I don’t think we should send any tacit approval to our children that somehow this is not bad anymore.”

And if Nison had the opportunity to debate the governor in a public forum on the controversial issue, what would he say?

“No one is saying marijuana is good, that you should go out and smoke marijuana," Nison related. "But the fact remains that we're doing damage to thousands and thousands of young people and minorities by saddling them with criminal convictions that impair their ability to get a good education and a good job.

“In states like New Jersey these arrests can be devastating to people’s futures. Our laws are more harmful than the drug itself.

"I would like to show him (Christie) that we have the same goals of protecting public health and safety. While the Governor wants to protects kids through harsh punishments and incarceration, we prefer education.

"We hope he would be open to reevaluating the issue and show leadership by working with us."


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