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College hazy on campus marijuana use

Mills Campanil

Apr. 20, is a sort of high holiday for the cannabis-friendly crowd. The exact origins of 4-20 are hazy. Some speculate that it is a police code for a marijuana call, or a reference to its ingredients, while the most common theory on the Internet describes a group of high school students in the ’70s who would meet everyday at 4:20 p.m, the time detention would let out, to smoke pot. Whatever the actual origin, it is a day that smokers commemorate by lighting up and coasting through in a state of dazed confusion; and for some Mills women, 4-20 will be no different.

President Obama’s recent pledge to end federal raids of medical marijuana facilities and the arguments that the legalization of marijuana could stimulate California’s stagnant economy have recently circulated the media.

Some Mills women are celebrating the recent shifting tides of drug policy at the local and national level. But other question the College administration’s enforcement of its own policy, which some students describe as inadequate.

For sophomore Allison Morris, 4-20 will likely go by in a sleepy double-dazed blur, during which she should not attempt to operate heavy machinery or a motor vehicle. Not because Morris plans on getting stoned, but because of the extra-strength allergy medicine she will likely be forced to take in order to breathe freely throughout the day.

Morris is allergic to cannabis.

“It isn’t the most convenient allergy in college,” said Morris, whose reactions cause her to break out in hives and her throat and tongue to swell up to the point where she has trouble breathing. It is a rare allergy, but one that she and her sister share.

“If I ever were to smoke a joint my throat could completely swell up and shut in about five, ten minutes,” Morris said.

On the other end of the spectrum is a student named in this article as Mary Smith.

Smith is a sweet, enthusiastic junior. She speaks quickly, in a round-about, distracted, yet sincere, way and like many Mills women, she seems truly committed to issues of social justice and inequality. However, unlike many Mills women, Smith is also a marijuana dealer.

“Oakland is known for two things: its Ports [i.e. the harbor ports], and its Purple [a family of different cannabis strains],” Smith said. While she declined to state how long she has been dealing on campus, she described her sales as a social service rather than a business. Smith said selling marijuana is primarily her way of paying for her own marijuana use, which she estimated was at about $70 to $100 dollars worth a week and said she sets the rest of her profit aside for necessities like food and books.

“Mills is small so there’s only really room for like three main dealers and most students just buy their weed off campus because we live in Northern Cal, a central weed growing area,” Smith said. “Girls at this school are mad stressed.

Some people drink a glass of wine, some people smoke a joint,” said Smith.

“Weed is like a community,” she said. “It’s not a dirty thing at all, but we have to hide it and that hurts.”

Smith is hesitant to say all the places students smoke on campus, for obvious reasons, but she said a lot of it happens right in the dorms, which is unfortunate for Morris because students smoking indoors can mean a trip to the emergency room for her.

“I had a lot of trouble last year in Warren Olney with people down the hall from me smoking pot almost nightly and the administration couldn’t do anything about it,” said Morris who stated she had about three close calls last year. Even though Morris and her friends explained her condition to other residents the smoking continued.

“One of the times my suite mates tried to call an ambulance for me,” Morris said. “But I told them not to because I didn’t want to inconvenience anybody. But now that I have been going back and forth with the administration, it might not have been such a bad idea.”

Morris said no one in the administration last year claimed to have the authority to do anything about the students smoking marijuana indoors.

“The RA was really supportive” said Morris, “but as it was explained to me she didn’t have the authority to check other people’s rooms unless the smokers were essentially doing it out in the open, and Public Safety didn’t have the authority to come search the building.”

According to the drug policy that all residential students must sign, “any use, possession or distribution of illicit drugs is a violation of the Residence Agreement. The College reserves the right to enter and search a resident’s room, apartment, house or co-op without notice on reasonable suspicion of a student’s involvement in unlawful drug-related activities.”

To begin this process, Monique Young, assistant director of Residential Life, who recently joined Mills’ staff last June, said students need to file a complaint with their RA, at which point they would meet with the student whom the complaint was filed.

“Searching a resident’s room is not a singular call,” said Young. “It is vetted through DSL and HMDS. Resident life is the relationship piece of the issue.”

Young explained that often, higher administration is involved as well. Young could not comment on Morris’s specific case because she was not employed here when it happened. She urged students with complaints to report them and come to her as soon as possible.

Eventually Morris ended up registering with Services for Students with Disabilities and they arranged for her to live in Ethel Moore this year. Still she is unsatisfied with the College’s drug policy.

“I kept getting the impression that the school just didn’t care about what was happening,” Morris said. “I hear when students get caught, all they have to do is write a paper or something.”

As for how students are dealt with when caught using drugs on campus, Young explains that it is not clearly defined by policy, but they do have protocol.

“We want to take into consideration the amount of responsibility a student is taking and maybe have them touch base with a counselor,” Young said.

For first offenses, students who get caught smoking are asked to write a paper describing why they smoke marijuana. While the punishment may seem lenient and even provoke laughter from some, it follows a rising political and treatment trend in drug rehabilitation – one that recognizes the growing consensus in the scientific community that addiction is a disease and needs to be diagnosed and treated, not punished and stigmatized.

“It is not always punitive,” explained Young, who agreed this was a model Mills worked to implement. “We want to help students move towards graduation. Some students are going to appreciate the opportunity to reflect, others may just see it as having to write a paper.”

Junior Carrol Page and her friends got caught smoking pot her sophomore year in the Orchard Meadow courtyard.

“Two RAs cornered us and asked for our names, IDs and where we live,” Page said.

As a punishment, the freshwomen were asked to make educational posters about cannabis and the sophomores were asked to write a three to five page paper about why they smoked.

“But we didn’t end up having to write it,” said Page, explaining that due to a staff member resigning, the issue was never followed up on.

Smith has been caught smoking marijuana on campus twice and she said the experience scared her, even though she said the punishments have been minimal so far.

She described it as a three strike policy.

“They call you in, you get three warnings. The first is a slap on the wrist, the second is a really hard slap and the third time you’re out.”

Morris plans on living in Ethel Moore again next year, but she said her situation has yet to be entirely resolved.

“They [SSD] arranged for me to live in one of the quiet wings,” said Morris. “I believe the rationale for putting me here is that quiet studious residents don’t smoke pot… but as the end of the semester is approaching, more and more students are smoking in the building and like I said, even the smallest amount of weed causes me to have a reaction.”

One potential solution for students like Morris or for students in recovery from drugs or alcohol is for Mills to offer substance free housing, which is a common feature on a majority of college campuses.

“It is on our radar,” responded Young, who felt sober housing would be a feature on the Mills campus by the Fall of 2010 or ’11, adding, “We need to support them in their academic pursuit as well.”

Official Mills College Drug Policy

Mills College upholds the federal and state laws prohibiting the possession, use, or distribution of illegal drugs or narcotics, including marijuana. Government enforcement officers with proper legal documents may search any and all buildings on campus. The College reserves the right to authorize College officials to enter and search student rooms whenever there is reason to believe that the terms and conditions of the housing contract are being violated, including reasonable suspicion of use, possession or distribution of illegal drugs.

Source: Mills Student Handbook