Smoke green, blow white
What would marijuana decriminalization mean for students?
Weed. Pot. Grass. Mary Jane. Marijuana.
Whatever word is used to describe it, the presence of the “herb” in daily culture is undeniable, whether it’s plastered across news channels or its distinguishing scent is floating through cracked windows.
It might be the collegiate mentality or it might be the new century, but more students are asking to legalize the use of marijuana.
That is the case of Margaret Shea, a social relations and policy junior, who started smoking marijuana when she was in high school.
“A lot of my friends from high school smoked and I was very curious about it,” Shea said. “I thought I might as well try it once and see what all the fuss is about.”
In East Lansing, the use of marijuana is illegal and individuals caught with it can be charged with a misdemeanor or a harsher punishment.
Shea finds it “astounding” the amount of her peers that have been arrested because of smoking marijuana.
“I have had many of (my) close friends get POMs (possession of marijuana) for as little as half a gram on them,” she said.
Part of a lifestyle
Dave, a packaging sophomore who chose not to reveal his last name, started smoking marijuana when he was 15 years old.
Dave said he likes the way that marijuana makes him feel.
“Whatever I’m doing would become more enjoyable and pretty much everything, like studying, can be a little more fun,” Dave said.
Dave said that even when it is illegal, people should not criticize marijuana users.
“I think if you support tobacco and alcohol there is no reason not to support (marijuana decriminalization),” Dave said.
Dave usually smokes one gram of marijuana a day and spends around $200 on marijuana every month.
“I think everyone would say it’s not addictive but I would say it kind of is in a mental sense, because once you get the habit of always smoking and always being high, you will always want to smoke and be high,” Dave said. “If I would want, I could stop and then I would not have any withdrawals, but I want to smoke because I am so used to it.”
Although Dave started smoking recreationally, he now is applying to get a medical marijuana card due to severe allergies he sometimes suffers.
“It’s really painful so that’s why I’m getting it, but I wouldn’t say I necessarily need it for that,” Dave said.
Dave said the process to get the medical marijuana card has been an easy one and he expects to have it in the next few weeks.
As Dave waits for his medical marijuana card, he still can’t help but wish that it was just legal.
“If it was legal, the reputation (attached to marijuana) might just go away,” Dave said.
Punishments and regulations
Assistant General Counsel at MSU Rob Kent said that because the university is under the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988, it is illegal to possess marijuana on campus — even if it is for medical reasons.
MSU offer options for incoming students that have a valid medical marijuana card, Kent said.
“What MSU has been doing is that if the student has a valid medical marijuana card, then we allow them to waive our accommodations so they don’t have to live on campus,” Kent said.
But for students who do not possess a medical marijuana card and are caught with the drug, the punishments can be a lot harsher.
One of Shea's friends, an Israeli student, got caught with illegal possession of marijuana.
“One of my friends lost his visa from Israel when a cop found one joint in his cig packet while he was harmlessly taking a walk with another friend,” Shea said. “Now he is back in a dangerous area and cannot pursue his engineering degree.”
Shea said the student was not able to leave Israel to make his appearance for the ticket in court.
A citation is issued if the law enforcers witness someone smoking or consuming in any form the marijuana, MSU police Sgt. Florene McGlothian-Taylor said.
“A citation is written for that individual and we take a report and it is handled through the court system,” McGlothian-Taylor said. “However, if no ticket is written for it, then the report is written and it is turned over to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office.”
McGlothian-Taylor said the majority of marijuana-related cases MSU police is involved with deal with possession of marijuana.
“We take an incident report and we refer it to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office for review,” McGlothian-Taylor said.
Both East Lansing police Capt. Jeff Murphy and McGlothian-Taylor said they would follow whatever the law is if a marijuana decriminalization proposal is passed.
On campus, the student conduct system gives students caught with marijuana an opportunity to accept responsibility or deny it. If a student accepts it, the office weighs different factors before making a decision. If it is denied, the student faces hearings before punishment.
Associate Director of Student Life Rick Shafer said the punishment will depend on how many times the student has been caught with the drug, who was effected and if it was for “simple use” — a quantity that will prove the student had the marijuana for personal use and not for selling.
It is very common that students caught using or possessing marijuana would be placed on university probation, Shafer said.
“University probation means if you violate another university policy you might face a possible removal from university and removal from university housing,” Shafer said.
During the probation period, the student can be referred to an educational program through the counseling center, he said.
Shea said she believes that if marijuana is decriminalized, resources could be spent on other issues such as campus and city safety.
“On campus we have major issues with rape and assaults. They could spend more time developing policy to make our campus a safer place,” Shea said. “Being a woman, I’m terrified to walk around campus alone past 9 p.m.”
If decriminalized, individuals caught with or consuming marijuana would not face criminal charges. However, a fine might be imposed on the individual.
Shea visualizes decriminalization as the first step before the legalization of marijuana.
“Decriminalization also is a step in the right direction towards legalization,” Shea said. “Legalization would bring in extreme revenue for Michigan and we need it.”
However, East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas does not see revenues or direct benefits for the city if the use of marijuana is decriminalized.
“I don’t know if the impact would really be what people picture it to be,” Lahanas said. “I think they think it would be legal and you could sort of do whatever you want with it, but I don’t think that’s the case because state law is still in place and federal law its still in place.”
Lahanas said he has not had a discussion with the city council about decriminalizing marijuana despite a petition signed by residents to include a proposal in the 2014 elections that addresses decriminalization in the city.
After a court ruling, the proposal might appear in the 2015 ballot.
Lahanas and law enforcers agreed that even if the city decriminalizes the use of marijuana, it would still be completely illegal on campus.
“The city obviously can pass their own ordinances but those ordinances don’t impact the campus of Michigan State because they are a different set of rules,” Lahanas said. “There will be ambiguity and that ambiguity might lead someone to do something that gets him in trouble still under state laws.”