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Reconsider marijuana policy

Connor Roth | Sunday, September 29, 2013

It was Dec. 28, 2006, and the Notre Dame men’s basketball team just clobbered Rider University 101-51. Instead of celebrating the victory and relaxing over Christmas break, Notre Dame guard Kyle McAlarney was arrested on a marijuana possession charge. A few days later, McAlarney found out he was dismissed from school with the possibility to reapply later on, in accordance with du Lac. Although the guard had to endure much strife before his homecoming, history tells us that McAlarney eventually came back to Notre Dame and completed his successful basketball career. However, since those days we have not seen much progress with how our school handles marijuana related issues.
Du Lac claims that marijuana use is a violation of school rules that warrants either expulsion or suspension on first trial. It is true Notre Dame does not have too much leeway on minimizing the penalties for student use of pot, since it is still illegal under federal law. However, over the past few years, many states have changed their laws applying to marijuana due to the more modern social acceptance of the drug. Colorado and Washington have completely legalized cannabis and 14 states have decriminalized it in several forms. Unfortunately for some, the rules and regulations vary widely between states. For instance, Ohio’s legal punishment for possessing under 100 grams of marijuana is a maximum $150 fine; Indiana’s penalty for possession of 30 grams or less is a maximum one year incarceration or a $5,000 fine. Even though these two states are contiguous, their policies toward marijuana use couldn’t be any more polar opposites.
This article is not written to persuade others to try marijuana or to sanctify THC. It is meant to bring Notre Dame’s inconsistent drug policy back to light. Hopefully the student body and student government will continue to work with the administration towards making a more just policy towards marijuana – does one offense really justify a mandatory suspension, if not expulsion?
Consider Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon who spent many years studying marijuana and its effects on people. In 2009, he wrote a TIME article entitled, “Why I would vote No on Pot,” discussing many issues Notre Dame’s Office of Alcohol and Drug Education cite in their description of the drug online. Unfortunately, many of these arguments against marijuana as a gateway-addictive drug are under dispute. In Aug. 2013, the same Dr. Gupta released an article on CNN that sparked much debate: “Why I changed my mind on weed.” Gupta apologized for not looking into the qualitative science behind the Drug Enforcement Agency’s listing of pot as a Schedule I drug and noted that marijuana dependence occurs only within nine to 10 percent of its users, as opposed to 30 percent for tobacco. He then goes on to list the medical benefits for people suffering from cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Consider Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, who calculates that it costs $20 billion each year to keep marijuana illegal, which includes 750,000 arrests of mostly non-violent young people. Is it worth it? How about all of the lives that are ruined by an early criminal record from using marijuana? Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama may not have become the successful politicians they are today if they grew up in less affluent families and were caught smoking, to which each of them have admitted.
As students at Notre Dame, we all know what the drinking culture is like at this school. We also know that many times, our residential staff likes to keep underage and abusive drinking issues in house so students can get off with a few community service hours and a slap on the wrist. Even repeated violations of the alcohol rules in du Lac do not warrant an immediate suspension. Can you imagine the outrage if a sophomore were caught drinking multiple times and had to expelled?
Also, consider the number of individuals who end up in St. Liam’s with alcohol poisoning and the other issues it can bring about. Contrast that with the number of people who died from overdoing it on marijuana: zero. They did probably eat too much pizza and chips for one day though. How many students find themselves in harmful situations because of alcohol? Probably too many. Does this mean we should ban all harmful substances and turn our University into another form of a paternalist high school? Of course not. It does mean that Notre Dame should attempt to work within the consistently changing framework of state law and the Justice Department’s recent declaration of not challenging those respective laws.
As a private institution, Notre Dame has the right to create its own standards and define violations of its own school policies, and the school, of course, has to enforce federal and state law. However, with the rapidly changing climate of marijuana policy, Notre Dame should reconsider the way its strict rules can turn a 20-year-old’s life upside down for making a mistake in the eyes of the law and make its policies more equal across the board. In the words of Paul Holt – a student who wrote to the Observer on this issue back in 2007 – “something just doesn’t add up.”

Connor Roth is a junior studying economics and constitutional studies. He lives in Duncan Hall, hails from Cleveland, Ohio and is currently
participating in the London abroad program through Notre Dame. He can be contacted at croth1@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.