Editorial: Are penalties for pot productive?

By The Beacon | September 22, 2015 10:42am
by Nathan DeVaughn

Snoop Dogg advises to “smoke weed everyday.” The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry warns that “marijuana use is not benign.” The legalization of marijuana is a nationwide debate, which only becomes more complicated as more states alter their laws and the federal government does not. But as residents of Oregon and students of a federally-funded university, we are in a unique, conflicting intersection.

We don’t want to debate the legalization of marijuana. The Beacon is not taking a position on the benefits or risks of using marijuana. We want to talk about the University policy right now in this complicated time of transition, when students are stuck in a difficult position.

According to the Life on the Bluff student handbook, the University of Portland prohibits the possession and/or use of marijuana by students, faculty or staff both on and off campus, “regardless of its status in the State of Oregon, or whether or not an individual possesses a prescription for medical use.”

But possible sanctions include: a warning, apology letter, monetary fine, community service hours, educational project or paper, referral to services (e.g., Health Center, Shepard Academic Resource Center), restriction of privileges, alcohol or drug education or assessment, restitution, transfer/loss of on-campus housing privileges or even suspension.

Student conduct cases are always treated on a case-by-case basis. There’s no formula for responding to an incident of underage drinking or a possession of marijuana case.

Some of these sanctions make sense. If a student’s use of marijuana is causing problems for our community, they should write an apology. If they damaged property, they should pay to replace it. If they clearly have a problem with controlling their behaviors and limiting how they use marijuana, they should participate in an education program or assessment process.

But suspension doesn’t make sense. If, like the handbook states, “sanctions are designed with specific learning outcomes in mind,” what is a student really learning about healthy behavior and healthy use of marijuana if they’re dismissed from the University?

If a student is forced to leave UP because of marijuana use/possession, what do they learn? Leaving the University doesn’t prevent them from not continuing possibly harmful behaviors. If anything, leaving the University only deprives them of the guidance and support of a caring, educated community.

We’re not trying to say that the University’s conduct process is too simplistic or not considerate of the students. We know that the University puts a lot of effort to make sure students are taken care of. Alex Hermanny, Associate Director of Community Standards, said he knows there’s gray area when dealing with any conduct issue.

We want to encourage the University to continue to consider the complexities of every conduct case and to really consider the benefits, support and guidance a student might lose by losing their place at the University of Portland.

Suspending a student for using or possessing marijuana is too harsh a sanction especially given the complexities of the changing legal status. Suspension won’t make a student stop using marijuana, but it might deny a student the community support they need to overcome whatever challenges they’re dealing with.

Yes, marijuana is illegal on a federal level. And we understand that the University must abide by federal law. But we want the University to give students as many second chances as possible. Keeping a student on campus, even if they break the rules, might provide the supportive environment they need to change their (possibly) harmful behaviors into healthier alternatives.