Opinion » Editorial | Feb. 16
Recently, The Daily Princetonian reported on the arrest of a University student for the possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana and three Ritalin pills. Almost every year, a small number of University students have the misfortune of being caught with a small amount of marijuana. Given the legal status of the drug, these students immediately face strict University punishments as well as possible legal repercussions. However, when underage students are caught illicitly using alcohol, the University often only issues warnings and generally does not compel students to face the criminal justice system. Given this inequity as well as national trends surrounding marijuana, the Editorial Board believes that the University should modify its current policy and lower the level of punishment for marijuana possession to that of alcohol violations.
While marijuana is illegal to all and alcohol only to those below the legal age, this fact alone should not merit a higher level of punishment to those who use the former. The ill effects of alcohol are well-established and range from short-term intoxication to long-term addiction and even death. In contrast, marijuana does not carry with it the same risk of dependency or overdose, despite resulting in similar levels of intoxication. However, despite the relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol, offenses of possessing the former have a greater negative impact on students.
The first marijuana offense involves probation as well as a permanent mark in a student’s record, whereas the first alcohol offense simply results in a dean’s warning. Further, the drug policy tells students to expect a suspension after the third drug offense, regardless of how small the offense, while a similar outcome results only after three of the most egregious of alcohol offenses. Finally, students with drug violations may be subject to mandatory state penalties while those with alcohol violations are usually only punished in the context of the University setting. For example, according to Public Safety, from 2010 to 2012, there were no arrests due to liquor law violations on campus but 15 for drug violations, of which nine were in residential facilities. While it is possible that not all of these were exclusively marijuana-related, like the most recent case, the fact remains that drugs receive far more severe treatment than alcohol. While the Board understands that some drugs should be punished severely, we maintain that this punishment differential de jure is unfair in the case of marijuana and should be amended to reflect scientific understanding of its effects.
An initial objection to changing the University policy on marijuana might be that such a change would result in backlash against the University. However, this consideration is flawed on two fronts. First, the University’s alteration of its policy would be based in concern for the welfare of the students as well as in scientific fact. If the University’s aim is to promote safety, then it should not make use of alcohol, a more dangerous substance, a less risky proposition than the use of marijuana. Further, the University’s policy change is not without precedent. Over the past year, successful legalization efforts in Colorado and Washington have led other states to question the sensibility of a marijuana ban. State-level marijuana industries have even received sanction from the Obama administration, and the president himself has equated the danger of marijuana to that of alcohol. A change in University policy would come on the heels of a growing national movement, one that is likely to pick up speed in the coming years.
The Board understands that there are other reasons why the use of marijuana would be undesirable besides its legal status. Smoking constitutes a fire hazard, and the smell of the smoke spreads throughout hallways. However, these minor inconveniences hardly justify legal action. Though the law still applies on campus, the University should not blindly abide by an unfair policy, especially as states throughout the nation are starting to overturn it.
The Editorial Board validly observes a “punishment differential” according to University regulations between disciplines in cases of alcohol use and those of marijuana use not reflective of the disparity in health risks between the two substances. Yet the majority comes to a peculiar conclusion. If the ill effects of alcohol are indeed more serious than those of marijuana, why suggest similar leniency in discipline for marijuana use instead of proposing that alcohol be treated more seriously? It is curious to decry the current “inequity” and propose another in its stead. If the University were to alter its policy based on the “welfare of the students as well as scientific fact,” it would make alcohol infractions more serious than those for marijuana.
We agree with the Board’s recognition that the law applies on campus; so why not follow it? As inconvenient as it might be for our social lives, the law does restrict the usage of these potentially harmful substances. If a student deems the risk worthwhile, he or she is free to act as his or her prudence dictates but with full knowledge of possible legal consequences. It is in the best interest of the University, if it is to serve any nation, to promote among its students a respect for the legitimate laws of the land as long as they are in effect. That two of the 50 states (neither of which is New Jersey) have recently legalized marijuana is not grounds for a change in University policy.
Signed by Sergio Leos ’17 and Zach Horton ’15