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Go easy on grass

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Students at the University of Arkansas are voting today through Thursday on a resolution calling on university officials to treat marijuana use violations the same as alcohol use violations. The UA chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws did the legwork to get the resolution on the student ballot.

UA officialdom has responded in opposition. See a letter to the student body from Vice Provost Daniel Pugh on the jump.

The actual resolution:

Do you agree that University sanctions for the possession and use of marijuana should be NO greater than those imposed by the University for the possession and use of alcohol, and that the University should establish a task force to develop, implement and study such a policy?

PS -- Ah, institutional memory. A UA grad congratulates the administration on allowing students to vote on the issue. He remembers the John White days, when referenda -- even non-binding ones like this -- weren't automatically allowed before students. And also here.

THE LETTER FROM VICE PROVOST PUGH

Dear Students –


As you go to the ASG polls this week, you will be asked to vote on a resolution entitled SAFER.  The SAFER resolution addresses marijuana use and recommends that “in cases dealing with marijuana, corrective educational consequences be emphasized over punitive ones”.  The resolution’s authors propose that the sanctions for marijuana use and/or possession be “no greater than the sanctions for alcohol use and possession.”

To get on the ballot, the SAFER supporters were required to obtain a minimum number of verified signatures from eligible students.  In doing so, certain facts consistent with a pro-marijuana agenda were listed as part of the resolution.

I believe that citizenship demands an educated public and students should be provided the counter argument to the SAFER resolution.  It is not my intent to influence your vote, but to allow you to make a more informed decision.

All students know that it is against the law for an individual under the age of 21 to use or possess alcohol.  Students also know that it is illegal for anyone to use or possess marijuana.  Legally, marijuana is considered a Schedule VI drug under Title 5 subsection 64 of the Arkansas Code.  In Arkansas, simple possession of marijuana is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1000 fine and/or up to 1 year in jail.  It also carries with it a mandatory driver’s license suspension.

Additionally, there are enhanced penalties for subsequent offenses.  Section 5-64-408 details enhanced penalties and states “(a) Any person convicted of a second or subsequent offense under this chapter shall be imprisoned for a term up to twice the term otherwise authorized, fined an amount up to twice that otherwise authorized, or both.”  Furthermore, “(b) For purposes of this section, an offense is considered a second or subsequent offense if, prior to his or her conviction of the offense, the offender has at any time been convicted under this chapter or under any statute of the United States or of any state relating to a narcotic drug, marijuana, depressant, stimulant, or a hallucinogenic drug”.   A prior convictiondoes not have to be in the state of Arkansas.  These are very important facts for students to consider when making decisions about marijuana possession and/or use.

The SAFER resolution appears to minimize the harmful effects of marijuana by drawing attention to the harmful effects of alcohol.  As in life, there is always a different viewpoint.  Alternative studies clearly identify detrimental effects resulting from marijuana use and abuse.

A 1999 study published in the Addiction Journal, states that “36.5% of all 15-24 year olds in the National Comorbidity Study had tried cannabis at least once and of these, 15.3% went on to develop a DSM-III R cannabis related disorder.  Of the 15-24year old American population, 5.6% fulfilled criteria for cannabis dependence.”

A 2005 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry states that within the past decade there have been numerous studies that document the “detrimental effects of cannabis use.”  The article states that “marijuana use can cause impairment in interpersonal relationships, motivation and employment, and physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms have been reported including loss of appetite, weight loss, irritability, anxiety and other less frequently reported symptoms”. 

These scholarly findings do not suggest marijuana is a SAFER alternative to alcohol.

According to whitehousedrugpolicy.gov, marijuana endangers our communities when the users “commit crimes or cause crashes on the highway”.  During a roadside study of reckless drivers conducted in Tennessee, it was determined that “33 percent of all subjects who were not under the influence of alcohol, and who were tested for drugs at the scene of their arrest, tested positive for marijuana.”  A 2003 Canadian study, found that “one in five students admitted to driving within an hour of using marijuana.”

These studies would suggest that any argument intimating a lack of negative consequences from the convergence of smoking marijuana and driving is misleading.

As members of the University of Arkansas, we are called to live by the Principles of the University. The principles of integrity, mutual respect, inquiry, citizenship and connection are the foundation upon which our community is built.  A community member who violates the Code of Student Life or Arkansas law is not living these principles.

As with all our endeavors at the University of Arkansas, the conduct system is, first and foremost, focused on education.  As such, sanctions employed in all situations are educational by design.  The SAFER resolution would have you believe that punitive sanctioning practices are being utilized.

The University of Arkansas does not suspend students for first marijuana violations of a minor nature (amounts typically associated with personal use).   Several students who signed the SAFER petition have reported that this fact was misstated.  Sanctions typically associated with a first marijuana violation include a mandatory drug assessment by a professional mental health practitioner, payment for the cost of the assessment, parental notification, educational fund contribution, and community service.  Each of these sanctions is designed with an educational intent.

Yes, marijuana is sanctioned differently from alcohol because marijuana is an illegal substance.  Individuals choosing to possess and/or use marijuana merit different educational sanctions from those who violate the alcohol policy.

Thank you for taking the time to read this information.  It is my hope that you now feel more informed as you enter the polling station.

 Yours,


Daniel J. Pugh, Sr., Ph.D.
Vice Provost for Student Affairs/Dean of Students

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