by Anthony C. Brucato
Matt Koplak is from Binghamton, New York. He is in his fourth year majoring in International Business studies with a minor in Biology at the University at Buffalo (UB). Matt Koplak and Adrien D’Angelo co-founded UB NORML in 2009 with the help from Elyse Brown to promote the cause of legalizing medical and responsible adult use of cannabis in New York. I had the chance to interview Matt about UB NORML.
AB: Matt, how did you become interested in the legalization of cannabis?
MK: As a result of an extensive spinal surgery I had at age 14, I was unable to engage in the normal activities of the average athletic teen due to chronic pain. Two years into pharmaceutical “relief”, my physician and I realized that painkillers were not only highly addictive, but they were ruining my life with their side effects. The pain from my spinal fusion made me so irritable that I was extremely rude to my parents and siblings. I was drowsy everyday because I couldn’t sleep well at night. I began to build up a tolerance and had to take progressively more painkillers to ease the pain. Yet, the pain continued and I was more tired than ever. I discovered cannabis shortly thereafter and noted to my physician that it allowed me to sleep more than three hours a night and was more successful at relieving my back pains. The discovery of the medicinal effects of cannabis returned a feeling of joy to my heart and granted me a more positive attitude toward my future and endeavor. I credit it with many the life success- es I’ve have had thus far! Unfortunately this wonderful and natural medicine, which can be grown naturally with only the soil and sun and which is far more effective, sus- tainable, and less addictive than known synthesized painkillers I’ve tried, is still completely illegal for medicinal and responsible adult use in New York.
I soon realized it made no sense that the taxpayers
con- tinue to allow the US Government
to waste billions of our tax
dollars every year on cannabis prohibition. It is
absolutely insane that chronically ill patients are not
allowed access to cannabis that has been repeatedly proven within the past five thousand
years to have variety of
medical benefits including the potential to cure multi-
ple types of cancer . It is unjust to bar responsible adults from choosing to use cannabis for recreational purposes, because it is a more sustainable and safer alternative to alcohol. Farmers should be able to grow industrial hemp; the most sustainable, versatile, and hearty plant known to exist for a variety of economical uses, such as fiber, food, oil, and fuel. I hope to play a part in ending the incalcula- ble suffering and economic costs, which are a conse- quence of cannabis and hemp prohibition.
AB: Explain how was NORML founded? Name the officers that are involved in UB NORML and describe their positions.
MK: Throughout my first two college years, I read con- stant news updates and tragic stories related to cannabis prohibition. I was quickly becoming consumed with feel- ings of great injustice in our society. I decided that I need- ed to channel all of this energy somewhere, but where? I happened to be heading to class when I saw someone with a NORML shirt on. I instinctively approached the guy wearing it with the question, “Do you want to start a NORML Chapter here on UB campus?” That’s how I met Adrian D’Angelo. Adrien is this coming year’s UB NORML President and he has been the guiding force behind bringing the masses into the group meetings and events. He also is the one who does all of the work for bringing in talented musicians for the UB Community to enjoy at all of our events. Elyse Brown has also been with us since the start. She is working hard on keeping UB NORML on task and organized. UB NORML is growing because of these two dedicated activists and their visions. We will also expect to have new activists on board for next year, such as Cassy Klewicki who has been doing overtime this summer to attract incoming students to the cause.
AB: How does, Dr. Satish K. Tripathi, the recent elected President of the University at Buffalo, feel about the recognition of UB NORML?
MK: As our club was recognized through the Student Association, the undergraduate student run government, Dr. Satish K. Tripathi had nothing to do with our group becoming an official student organization. The only times I’ve ever seen our Presidents here at UB do anything with the Student Association is when they’ve needed photo opportunities to appear in-touch with the student popu- lation. I hope that administrators will be as fully support- ive of UB NORML as the student body has been.
AB: How is the general campus feeling towards UB NORML?
MK: As I just mentioned, there is a great acceptance of UB NORML, alongside a host of controversial
activist groups such as the Lesbian
Gay Bisexual Transgender Alliance (LGBT) folks, vegetarian, environmental,
world issue, and other amazing groups. We are all continuously working
to improve the social conditions of acceptance to new ideas such as with
responsible adult use of cannabis.
There has been notable opposition. One of the on-campus Health Prevention workers, whose name I will
withhold out of
respect for her position, was
appalled when she saw our first ‘4/20 Cannabis Culture Celebration.’ She
was upset at the name more so than anything else, so
we renamed it the ‘Medical Marijuana and Hemp Awareness
Day’ the following year out of
professional consideration for her
and for the University at Buffalo. She told me that we
“should be doing this kind of thing in lecture halls away from the public
eye,” and having discussions there because she feared
parents and their children might tour UB that day and see the cannabis culture celebration on campus. After a
brief discussion with her,
I asked her if I could
talk to her in her
office later. She confessed to knowing people who use cannabis
but she didn’t believe that cannabis was safer
than alcohol and cited her
expe- rience with ‘lazy
tokers’ here at UB, whom she helps through her classes. Not
only did I reply that unmotivated
people are unmotivated unrelated to cannabis, I sent her a link to Paul Armentano’s book “Marijuana is Safer” which happened to be free for viewing for twenty-four hours online on that day. She promptly never responded to any emails I sent after that. Other than that, we get fre- quent jokes about our Baked Sale Fundraisers. We often get a couple of oldies asking us in a low tone “Do you guys have any more expensive brownies I can buy?”
AB: Does UB NORML have any annual event? If so, please describe the annual event(s).
MK: We just had our second annual ‘Medical Marijuana and Hemp Awareness Day’ on April 20 this past year. We hope to make the event progressively bigger each year as we are allotted more funding and bring in more of the UB community. Our goal is to benefit the public through edu- cation and social awareness about cannabis and hemp legalization. We featured Mosaic Foundation, a Roots Reggae outfit out of Rochester who rocked the house for us, and we had some local Buffalo music acts as well. Unfortunately, it was moved to indoors due to rain this year. Next year we should have tents setup in case of rain and possible move it to UB’s South Campus where we can draw a larger crowd.
AB: Does UB NORML have any plans in recruiting and connecting with people outside of University at Buffalo? How so?
MK: Absolutely! We would love to in any way shape or form work with groups around the state or nation and their legalization efforts. Several discussions with various people from around the state have already begun. For example, Jay Goldstein, the Executive Director of Empire State NORML, is working with us to improve our develop- ment and action plans for the upcoming years. I wish we could get more involved in the community beyond our usual volunteer work.
AB: Do you foresee having UB NORML members working with Canadian activists such as co-hosting the Highway 420 Rally in Niagara Falls, Ontario or joining the annual Treating Yourself Medical Marijuana Expo in Toronto?
MK: UB NORML would love to. I talked to a fellow about the annual Niagara Falls Highway 420 Rally, but it is a longer-term scope for the group at this point. We just learned about the Treating Yourself Medical Marijuana Expo in Toronto. Due to the lack of funds, we haven’t been able to reach out to events outside of UB campus, as much we would like to yet. I hope someday we can participate in every local Buffalo and Greater Buffalo area venue.
AB: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Washington DC, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode
Island, and Vermont legalized medical cannabis, but New York has not done it yet. How will UB NORML work closely with the New York Patients First organization and Marijuana Policy Project to help legalize medical cannabis?
MK: We have been in some preliminary discussions about working with the other NORML chapters in New York. We have been bringing computers to all of the venues we attend to allow people to send a pre-written email letter to our representatives in New York State to support legisla- tion in favor of medical marijuana legalization. Again, as we grow, we plan to branch out and become more involved with larger organizations in the New York State area to help pass medical marijuana.
AB: How will the city of Buffalo benefit from the
legalization of responsible adult use of cannabis? MK: I wish I could
point to an amazingly well written recent article in the Buffalo paper
on this one. On the employment scale, there would be business opportunities for farmers,
quality inspecting botanists, and retail compa- nies such as with the Dutch coffee shops in Amsterdam.
From the educational standpoint, we would
see proper education in our schools and
universities about scientifical-
ly based research and information
on cannabis instead of the scare
tactics and non-factual
based approaches that we have been experiencing
since the Reefer Madness era. Students should not have to
fear losing their school and career opportunities over cannabis
possessions. On the social standpoint, there would be a safer, legal alternative
to alcohol for Buffalonians. There would be a greater over- all relaxed
atmosphere if medical cannabis users and recre-
ational cannabis enthusiasts could
get their products in a safe
and legal manner.
AB: Is there anything you would like to add or share about UB NORML and the officers with whom you are currently work- ing?
MK: We’ve all grown so much since the start of UB NORML. Elyse has become extremely organized and more responsible, Adrien has devel- oped better skills at how to run events and manage time, and I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to organize a group. I want to thank them and all of our ongoing members who have sus- tained UB NORML and, more impor- tantly, contributed to a safer commu- nity and greater tomorrow.
AB: What would you like to say to potential cannabis activists and supporters?
MK: Read and educate yourself first. Start with under- standing the benefits of medicinal uses and work your way into the social issues involved. There is so much suffering and injustice still going on due to marijuana prohibition. Don’t get discouraged. I believe in our lifetime we will see cannabis legalization but that does not mean we are not going to have to work every day for it. If you are a college student looking for some input on starting your own chap- ter from a student’s perspective, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to help in any way possible.
AB: Matt, thank you taking the time in answering questions for Treating Yourself magazine. It is exciting for Buffalo to have UB NORML working toward the repeal of cannabis prohibition. I agree that we will see New York State legalize cannabis for medical and responsible adult use in our life- time, because we have dedicated activists like you, Adrien D’Angelo, and Elyse Brown working together. The staff of Treating Yourself hopes to see UB NORML supporters at the Highway 420 Rally in Niagara Falls and Treating Yourself Medical Marijuana Expo in the coming year.
I also want to thank Dr. Gail Rothman-Marshall for reviewing the UB NORML article and past articles with me. Dr. Rothman- Marshall is a Counseling Psychologist and Associate Professor teaching Psychology at the Rochester Institute of Technology, who received her Ph.D. in 1989 from the University at Buffalo’s Department of Counseling, School, and Educational Psychology.
Guzman, M. (2003). Cannabinoids: potential anticancer agents. Nature Reviews Cancer, 3, 745-755. doi:10.1038/nrc1188