Colleges Should Ease Marijuana Penalties, Advocates Say

Sanctions imposed for marijuana use by colleges and universities should be equalized with penalties for alcohol offenses, marijuana-legalization advocates contend.

The Associated Press reported May 16 that activists have latched onto the recent debate about lowering the legal drinking age to make their case for less severe marijuana penalties. The group Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation’s (SAFER) “Emerald Initiative” has organized student referenda on 13 college campuses, although none has resulted in changes in school policies. The name of the initiative echoes the Amethyst Initiative, a campaign to reexamine the age-21 drinking law that has attracted support from 130 college presidents.

Mason Tvert, leader of SAFER, contends that harsh penalties for marijuana use encourages students to use alcohol, which he says is a more dangerous drug. “You know, when you get high on marijuana you don’t act violent — you just kind of sit there,” he said. “… If they’re willing to talk about letting 18-year-olds use a seriously harmful drug, why shouldn’t we talk about whether they should be allowed to use a drug that’s far less harmful?”

The comparison does not sit well with Amethyst Initiative head John McCardell Jr., former president of Middlebury College in Vermont. “The fact is marijuana is prohibited across the board,” he said. “It’s not a matter of age discrimination, as where alcohol is concerned.”

The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators says that few schools suspend students for marijuana possession on campus, but pot offenders can be barred from residence halls and ordered into counseling.

However, schools like Purdue have a zero-tolerance rule for students caught with marijuana in their dorm rooms, but no such standard for alcohol possession. During the 2007-08 school year, for example, 691 Purdue students were disciplined for alcohol-related offenses in campus residences, with 18 losing their rooms; during the same year, 62 students were investigated for marijuana or other illicit drug offenses, and 51 lost their rooms.

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