Cannabis creates consequences

Administration may give out severe sanctions for students who possess or are under the influence of marijuana on campus. Cyrus Lange/The USD Vista

With increased accessibility of marijuana, an increase of use and consequences could occur
Celina Tebor | Feature Editor | USD Vista

Marijuana is a recognizable scent to some people, whether they have inhaled it. The scent wafts through the air at the beach, clings to the clothes of San Diegans at nightclubs, and can even be smelled at the University of San Diego. Even though recreational marijuana is now legal in the state of California, it is still illegal at the federal level. Since USD is a federally funded university, the new state laws do not apply to the USD campus.

However, some students still smoke marijuana on campus even though it is not allowed. With dispensaries appearing around the city, accessibility to marijuana is much easier. When students are caught smoking illegally or possess marijuana on campus or under the influence, there can be a range of consequences for their actions.

Junior Christian Yee-Yanagishita has dealt with various marijuana cases in his two years as a Resident Assistant (RA). He is currently an RA in Maher Hall, and resided in Missions B last year, where he managed several situations in which students were caught smoking marijuana. He claimed he handled a case at least once a week.

Even though he could smell marijuana quite frequently, majority of the time the smell was untraceable and residents did not get in trouble for it.

“I can’t tell where it’s coming from, and by the time I do determine that, our protocol doesn’t allow us to act on it without faculty, which is explicitly a community director or ResLife faculty or Public Safety,” Yee-Yanagishita said. “So we have to wait for them, and with it being a smell, it often drifts away, and by the time Public Safety gets there, it’s not strong enough for them to identify either.”

James Miyashiro, Chief of Public Safety, explained that in most instances RAs are the ones who initially call Public Safety and let them know of potential marijuana usage.

“They’re the ones that really help us to come down and enforce that, so if they smell something or if they get information that somebody’s smoking, they’ll call us and then we’ll come down and check,” Miyashiro said.

Both a Public Safety officer and a member of the Residential Life staff are required to be present in order to search a room for marijuana. Yee-Yanagishita believes the protocol makes it harder for any students to actually be caught.

“I think (the protocol is) what

makes enforcing the rules and our job difficult,” Yee-Yanagishita said. “Because a lot of the time we know that with the time it takes with our protocol, it’s difficult to get a response in time. We do record where we think it happened so we can keep track of it. But it’s often difficult to get an immediate response.”

The current protocol for RAs when they smell marijuana is to first call Public Safety. After an officer arrives, he or she determines whether the case is severe enough to bring a Residential Life employee to the area. Once both parties are there, they determine whether they will enter a resident’s room and search it.

First-year John Winthrop lives in Camino Hall and often catches a whiff of marijuana in the hallways of the second floor.

“(It is) not constant, but I notice the smell every once in a while,” Winthrop said. “(It is) more than once a week.”

While Winthrop chooses not to engage in using marijuana himself, he was not surprised when he smelled the scent for the first time in Camino.

“I met some of the people beforehand and was like, ‘They’re stoners,’” Winthrop said.

Winthrop believes that more people on campus will start smoking marijuana now that it is recreationally legal in California and more accessible, but Miyashiro stated otherwise.

“We’re not really expecting an increase (of marijuana usage) because most of the students know or should know that we have regulations that say, ‘You can’t use or possess marijuana on campus,’” Miyashiro said.

Yee-Yanagishita is worried that residents who were already using the drug before it was legal will use it more.

“I feel like the people who do use marijuana will feel more entitled to,” Yee-Yanagishita said. “I can’t say if I think it’ll be used more or less, but it might present itself more. Because the people who are using it will feel more entitled because they think they’re being supported by state law.“

However, Yee-Yanagishita does not believe the number of people using marijuana on campus will increase.

Melissa Halter, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs for Student Wellness, believes that the usage of marijuana on campus may increase based on upward trends of marijuana usage in San Diego County.

Although some might believe that marijuana use will not increase, there have already been cases of students caught smoking, in possession, or under the influence of marijuana on campus.

According to Public Safety, there were 84 reported marijuana calls in 2017. Of those calls reported, Public Safety verified and took action against 29 of those in violation. According to the Office of Ethical Development and Restorative Practices, the office found 69 students responsible for a marijuana violation in 2017. In 2016, the office found 47 students responsible for a marijuana violation.

There are several factors that go into what kind of punishment a student receives for smoking, possessing, or being under the influence of marijuana on campus. Usually, Public Safety sends the case to Student Affairs and they handle the punishment, unless the case is criminal, and then Public Safety calls the police.

Student Affairs abides by the University’s Alcohol and Drug Policy, which states, “Violation of any of the standards set forth in this policy will result in appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal from the university and referral for prosecution.”

The Office of Ethical Development and Restorative Practices handles all cases that Public Safety and Residential Life refers to it. Marie Minnick, the Assistant Dean of Students, described how the office usually hears the case.

“There’s the two (deans) that hear the individual cases,” Minnick said. “And usually for marijuana, and unless there’s an implication of distribution or other extenuating circumstances or priors, generally they go before the assistant deans. It’s an administrative hearing for a first-time personal use.”

If a case has an implication of distribution, other extenuating circumstances, or if the student has prior offenses, there is a possibility of the Critical Issues Board hearing the case. The Critical Issues Board commonly handles more serious cases that can result in suspension or expulsion.

Every case is different, and therefore receives an individual sanction. Halter explained the wide range of sanctions that the Office of Ethical Development and Restorative Practices can give students.

“We really try to work from an educational and wellbeing approach,” Halter said. “(If there is) a student who possesses or is using marijuana, or is under the influence, there’s a report that’s generated—probably because of a behavioral concern. There’s a spectrum of sanctions that can be received. But they’re very individualized, and often it might be something like an assessment with our Center for Health and Wellness Promotion. It could be expulsion.”

There are a wide array of sanctions and no automatic sanctions based on guidelines, but Minnick explained a common sanction that the Office of Ethical Development and Restorative Practices gives out for first-time users. The office generally gives out a fine, a connection with the Center for Health and Wellness Promotion, and a university probation. If the student is under 21, the office may contact his or her family. A student does not have to consent for the office to contact his or her family under the rules of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Halter explained that whether a family is contacted depends on the individual case.

“We look to create sanctions that are going to best support the student moving forward, so there may be a situation where it makes a lot of sense to contact the family, and there may be a situation where it doesn’t,” Halter said.

Probation can last for a semester, a year, or longer depending on the circumstances. If a student violates policy while on probation, they can be suspended. Usually a suspension is at least for a semester and can last for longer.

Every student has the opportunity to present their side of the story if the Office of Ethical Development and Restorative Practices hears their case. Minnick explained that the office hears cases by a “more-likely-than-not standard,” which means that it is more likely than not that the student will receive a sanction for his or her behavior.

Miyashiro explained the possibilities of what students could face if Public Safety caught them with marijuana on campus and the cases were criminal. If anyone has over an ounce of marijuana in their possession, the case is criminal and the police are called by Public Safety. Depending on how much over an ounce they have in possession, they can receive a misdemeanor or even a felony. California regulations do not specify an exact amount of marijuana possession at which the crime changes from a misdemeanor to a felony.

“(The punishment) can be anything from an infraction to a felony, depending on how much they have, what they’re doing with it,” Miyashiro said.

Yee-Yanagishita explained that the range of circumstances that affect the punishment makes it hard for RAs to define consequences to residents.

“When we come to those things, we can’t really explain what’s going to happen because a lot of other factors come into play, too,” Yee-Yanagishita said. “It’s not just the offense. It’s how they conducted themselves, prior history. So many different aspects. Those are just a couple to name.”

Miyashiro explained that even if a student smokes weed legally off-campus, and then comes back on campus intoxicated, the Office of Ethical Development and Restorative Practices can still give them a sanction.

“If they’re under the influence, it’s the same as if they’re over-intoxicated (with alcohol),” Miyashiro said. “There’s a detox center that we can take them to, and there’s also a hospital we can take them to if they’re in serious need.”

Winthrop believes the punishments that students can receive for using or possessing marijuana are reasonable.

“It seems logical,” Winthrop said. “It’s a Catholic school, for one. So I think the Catholic Church isn’t exactly for recreational weed usage. Also, it’s a learning institution; it’s not a place where you should be smoking, personally. Do that somewhere else.”

While the smell of marijuana may become more prevalent in the air, Public Safety does not expect usage to increase at the university. The green palm trees will continue to sway in the air, but another type of green is expected to stay off campus. And if it does not, the administration may hand out severe punishments.

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