by Max Brantley
FAYETTEVILLE -- According to election results released Thursday evening, University of Arkansas-Fayetteville students overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure calling on the school to loosen its sanctions for marijuana use so that students are no longer steered toward drinking instead of using marijuana -- a far less harmful substance. Sixty-seven (67) percent of student voters approved the following "SAFER Referendum" in the campus-wide election held March 31 to April 2:
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?
The SAFER Referendum was introduced and sponsored by the University of Arkansas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which will begin working with university officials and student leaders to develop and implement new campus policies that reflect the relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol and no longer threaten students with harsher penalties for making the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol when they party.
All of the candidates for student body president and vice president vocally supported the SAFER Referendum, including Associated Student Government President-Elect Mattie Bookhout, who vowed to work with NORML UA and administrators to implement the measure.
"The students have spoken, and they've said, 'Stop driving us to drink,'" said NORML U of A spokesman Rob Pfountz. "It is our sincere hope that the University will listen to the students and work with us toward more rational and effective policies on alcohol and marijuana.
"If a student would prefer to sit in their dorm room, use a little marijuana and relax with their friends rather than attend a wild keg party off campus, we don't see why the University would want to stop them," Pfountz said. "It's time for U of A policies to catch up with the facts, and it's a fact that students using marijuana are far safer than those using alcohol."
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism's Task Force on College Drinking, each year the use of alcohol by college students contributes to approximately 1,700 student deaths (including many fatal overdoses), 600,000 student injuries, 695,000 assaults involving students, and 97,000 sexual assaults and date rapes involving students. The use of marijuana itself has not been found to contribute to any deaths, and there has never been a single fatal marijuana overdose in history. All objective research on marijuana has also concluded that it does not contribute to violent or aggressive behavior, or violent crimes like assault and sexual assault.
The Arkansas SAFER Referendum is the latest in the growing SAFER Campuses movement emerging at major universities nationwide. NORML Purdue worked -- and will continue to work -- closely with Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), a national organization established in the wake of two high-profile alcohol overdose deaths at universities in Colorado. Students at Purdue University also approved a SAFER Referendum this past week, and such measures have been adopted at at least six of the 15 largest colleges in the nation, including schools such as Ohio State University, Florida State University, the University of Central Florida, the University of Maryland, the University of Texas-Austin, and the University of Washington, among others.
"Arkansas is at the forefront of a major campus-based movement sweeping the nation,'" said SAFER Executive Director Mason Tvert. "Some may scoff at the idea of allowing students to use marijuana instead of alcohol, but this is literally a matter of life and death, and it's only a matter of time before we accept the fact that campuses and surrounding communities would be safer if more students were using marijuana instead of alcohol."