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SAFER, a campus organization wanting pot recognized as safer than alcohol March 26, 2005 denverpost.com
Fort Collins - Students at two Colorado college campuses rocked by alcohol-related deaths last year are pressing school officials to lighten up on marijuana users.
Claiming pot is safer than alcohol, activists at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University want sanctions for the use and possession of marijuana to be no greater than those imposed for underage drinking.
Students signed petitions last week to have the measure put on the ballot next month during student elections. The initiative also asks administrators to conduct a study to determine the impact of making marijuana use nonpunishable for students older than 18.
The vote will be nonbinding at CU and CSU. But if the measures pass, they will send a message that students think a few puffs from a joint are a lot safer than several shots of beer, said Mason Tvert, executive director for SAFER (Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation).
"If a fraternity told a freshman to go into the woods and smoke a pound of pot, he is not going to die from that," said Tvert, a recent University of Virginia graduate. "He'll fall asleep before that happens."
The Boulder-based SAFER was formed in January as a nonprofit and is looking to create chapters at CU and CSU. The group is heading up the petition drive to get the marijuana measure before student voters.
Proponents got the 1,200 signatures needed at CU and are hoping to get the required 2,085 at CSU by Monday, Tvert said.
He claims too much of police officers' time and money is spent on marijuana enforcement, while it is alcohol that claims lives. At least 1,400 college student deaths each year are linked to alcohol, according to the National Institutes of Health.
But, Tvert said, there has never been a reported case of a student dying from a marijuana overdose.
"Our stance is that alcohol is more acceptable in our society and that is just bad public policy," he said.
Marijuana is an illegal substance and can draw fines and jail time. Students caught with pot can be suspended from school.
Both CU and CSU had a student die last year from alcohol poisoning. Their deaths led to several changes aimed at curtailing alcohol abuse on both campuses and to proposals in the state legislature to tighten penalties for underage drinking.
"Tons of kids are dying every year from alcohol, and we just think there is an alternative to that," said Havi Nelson, a CSU junior and a leader in the petition drive.
Several CSU students signed the petition Friday afternoon, including seniors Joe Stiles, 22, and Russ Owen, 23.
"Both alcohol and marijuana are drugs, but you get busted for one and you get in a lot less trouble for the other," Owen said. "It doesn't make any sense."
Others, however, are skeptical that marijuana is not as dangerous as alcohol.
"It's certainly not harmless," said Anne Hudgens, CSU's executive director for campus life.
Students who use marijuana consistently have a harder time in classes, their grades fall and their relationships plummet, Hudgens said.
In all, she said, "I don't think we are interested in our school experimenting with making marijuana use nonpunishable."
CU, CSU won't lighten penalties for marijuana use April 20, 2005 denverpost.com
Officials with Colorado's two largest universities say they are not going to ease penalties for smoking pot, despite a majority of students' voting for such measures earlier this month.
Both the University of Colorado and Colorado State University will keep marijuana sanctions as they are and not make them comparable to alcohol violations.
"CSU is a public institution supported by the taxpayers of Colorado," said CSU spokesman Brad Bohlander. "And it has no interest in reducing disciplinary actions for any illegal drug use."
CU officials say the point is almost moot because there is little difference in the severity of sanctions for illegal drug use and alcohol violations. Both usually draw probation, community service and participation in a drug and alcohol program for the student involved.
The marijuana referendums were among the ballot issues passed in student-body elections at CU and CSU. The results were nonbinding.
The proposal to make pot penalties no greater than those imposed for alcohol was pushed by SAFER (Safer Alternatives For Enjoyable Recreation). The Boulder-based activist group claims marijuana is safer than alcohol.
SAFER cites a study by the American Medical Association that found about 1,400 U.S. college students between 18 and 24 die each year as a result of alcohol-related accidents and about 500,000 students are injured in such accidents.
Alcohol played a role in the deaths of five Colorado college students last year. SAFER claims no student has ever died from smoking too much pot.
"If the administrations ignore the students and refuse to take any action, they will be encouraging future alcohol abuse and will be guilty of gross negligence the next time an alcohol-related tragedy occurs on campus," said Mason Tvert, executive director of SAFER.
Campus officials contend, however, that marijuana can lead to poor performance in the classroom, absenteeism and the use of other drugs.
Bohlander noted that out of an enrollment of 25,000 students at CSU, only about 4,000 actually voted for the initiative.