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Alcohol, Not Pot, Should Be Police Focus Posted by CN Staff on February 07, 2005 at 16:00:10 PT By Brittany Anas & Ryan Morgan, Staff Writers Source: Daily Camera
Marijuana is a much safer drug than alcohol, a new campaign says, and punishments for smoking a joint or taking a hit from a bong are too harsh.
"Alcohol has long been linked to overdose deaths, sexual assault, violent crime and vandalism on campus," said SAFER Executive Director Mason Tvert, a recent graduate from the University of Virginia.
SAFER stands for Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation. The nonprofit group was founded last month and is organizing campus chapters at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University, Tvert said.
The group is critical of public and campus policies regarding marijuana, and is seeking to get an initiative on campus ballots this spring that would ease marijuana restrictions.
"If someone who is 21 years of age or older is using marijuana at their house or at a party inside, they should not be a police priority," Tvert said. "Countless public resources that could be used to battle the problems associated with alcohol continue to be funneled towards the war on marijuana."
SAFER members have been on CU's campus recruiting members to join their campaign, Tvert said.
CU students who are ticketed or arrested for alcohol- or drug-related charges are referred to the school's judicial affairs board. The university has a "two strikes" policy, which means students can be suspended after two alcohol or drug violations.
"The focus of our student code of conduct is on both drugs and alcohol," said CU spokeswoman Pauline Hale. "There has been a great deal of concern about the effects of alcohol, and I don't believe resources are being 'funneled.'"
Last weekend, the CU Police Department ticketed eight students for underage drinking. No students were ticketed for marijuana. In 2003, there were 79 drug-related offenses handled by CU police and 240 alcohol-related violations, according to the department.
Statistics are not yet available for 2004.
Zack C. Tyler, a freshman at CU, sides with SAFER's argument that alcohol is a more harmful drug than marijuana. Tyler was ticketed for possession of marijuana by the university's Police Department in December.
Tyler and two of his friends were smoking from a pipe when they were spotted by an undercover officer, according to police.
"I know from experience that marijuana doesn't have as drastic effects on your emotions as alcohol does," Tyler said. "You have a lot more control over what you're doing with marijuana. Obviously, the law doesn't see it that way."
Tyler said he was sentenced to 26 hours of community service, and the university's judicial affairs placed him on probation ? meaning if he is caught smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol during the spring semester he could be booted from the school. He said he was also required to write a three- to four-page paper about marijuana.
Lt. Steve Prentup of the Boulder County Drug Task Force said his concern with marijuana is that it causes people to pay less attention to detail and can make them apathetic.
"Is it mind-expanding or mind-numbing?" Prentup said. "You've got to ask yourself that. The whole purpose of marijuana is to get to an altered state."
SAFER organizers said they are first tackling campus issues, but may eventually expand their campaign to a broader, statewide level.
State legislators representing districts that include CU and CSU said they were sympathetic to SAFER's proposals, but also said that the current political climate makes it unlikely that they'll be adopted any time soon.
"I don't know of anyone who's died of an overdose of marijuana," said Rep. Angie Paccione, D-Fort Collins. "We know that quite a few students use marijuana, and we haven't seen any of them dying on couches."
She said the Legislature would be better off focusing its efforts on booze, particularly hard liquor, which ? unlike beer ? has been implicated in recent student deaths from alcohol poisoning.
House Majority Leader Alice Madden, D-Boulder, said she has long been an advocate of reducing jail sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. But she said efforts to ease back on drug enforcement aren't popular politically.