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University of Maryland students celebrated student government election results yesterday with a bottle of bubbly -- nonalcoholic, of course -- and a freshman broke into a mellow, Phish sort of victory dance.
Not only had they elected new student leaders, but nearly two-thirds of the undergraduates who voted endorsed a referendum to reduce penalties for students caught with marijuana so that they would be treated the same as alcohol violations -- a result with much symbolic weight but no actual power to change the school's policies.
"We are pumped," said senior and campaign activist Damien Nichols yesterday afternoon, wearing a black suit and a "party organically" T-shirt with a pot leaf. "The students have spoken!"
Not all the students -- not even 4,500 of the more than 25,000 undergraduates voted on the student government association election ballot question.
The university's vice president for student affairs said the administration takes any strong message from student elections very seriously. But she doesn't think the school will be able to treat drug and alcohol violations the same way.
"You've got to look at these two issues differently," Linda Clement said, because marijuana can bring harder drugs, dealers and crime. "Our campus police believe very strongly that drug activity attracts people to the campus who are dangerous."
The vote comes just as the school, which has enjoyed a growing national reputation for its academics in recent years, also is fighting off the bad publicity that rowdy postgame student riots have brought. Last week, drunken students celebrated the women's basketball national championship win by setting fires and shaking buses in College Park.
U-Md. is the fifth university in the country to pass a referendum like this, part of a year-old campaign to promote marijuana as a safer alternative to alcohol.
Steve Fox, executive director of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, cites statistics on all sorts of awful things that happen to enormous numbers of college students as a result of drinking -- deaths, injuries, sexual assaults.
The SAFER campaign started at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University after two students died after drinking. This year, two other schools, the University of Texas and Florida State University, passed similar referendums.
And none of those schools have changed their policies.
Gwendolyn Dungy, executive director of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, laughed when she heard about the vote. She doesn't know of any college in the country that treats drug and alcohol violations the same -- mostly because of the law, she said, because, unlike marijuana, drinking is legal after 21.
Many on campus hadn't heard about the ballot question. Some were shocked when they did: "I think it's absolutely ridiculous if you're at college and you're smoking marijuana," freshman Dane Friedman said.
He thinks the referendum results could hurt the school's image and the atmosphere on campus if everyone starts thinking they can get away with smoking up all the time.
College administrators across the country have been trying for decades to find solutions to the sometimes ridiculous, sometimes annoying, sometimes tragic problems that drinking and drugs bring to campus.
Smoke-ins at U-Md. in the 1970s gave way in the 1980s to a much stricter policy, put in place after basketball star Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose. That's when administrators set the rules in place today, which John Zacker of the university's student misconduct office said are more severe than at many other schools.
Students caught with drugs at U-Md. face a one-year suspension, depending on the circumstances, and those who live in campus housing almost always are forced to move out, he said.
The university does offer some alternatives, including education and ongoing drug testing, rather than suspension, to give students with minor offenses a chance to learn from mistakes.
Students are much less likely to get suspended or to lose housing for alcohol violations, Zacker said. Those who do often have other violations along with drinking.
The school, with about 35,000 students, has hundreds of liquor violations every year and fewer than 100 drug violations, he said.
Nichols and Victor Pinho, a fellow advocate, are part of the generation that grew up with the "war on drugs" and DARE classes. And they see it as a moral issue.
"The average marijuana user does not have the impetus to stand on a sofa and scream, 'Legalize marijuana!' " said Nichols, a government and politics major from Bowie, who, like Pinho, has a job lined up when he graduates this spring. "It's easier to live their life and do their own thing."
Not him. This year he and Pinho, who head the U-Md. chapters of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, "came together, blew it up, made it public, gave it legs."
They spent the beginning of this week tooling around campus in a decorated campaign golf cart to get out the vote, offering students rides, hemp bracelets and propaganda.
Quote: Many on campus hadn't heard about the ballot question. Some were shocked when they did: "I think it's absolutely ridiculous if you're at college and you're smoking marijuana," freshman Dane Friedman said.
LOL yah man, because college isnt all about exploration and discovery. Its all about memorizing texts and staying in your dorm room all night dreaming about calculus functions.
I give the frosh a year or two before he's blowing lines and popping xanax like candy.
-------------------- To get really high is to forget yourself. And to forget yourself is to see everything else. And to see everything else is to become an understanding molecule in evolution, a conscious tool of the universe. And I think every human being should be a conscious tool of the universe. . . .
i really am glad you came back to us instead of taking the other path. *hug*
-A_S (RIP your final words to me will never be forgotten)