Proposed Marijuana Penalty Increase at Ohio University Meets Stiff Student Opposition 11/9/01

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Richard Carpinelli, head of Ohio University's Review and Standards Committee, thought he could quietly heighten the school's internal penalties for minor marijuana possession without raising a big fuss. He was wrong.

Last week, Carpinelli was ready to send a student conduct code revision proposal to the school's board of trustees that would have changed minor pot possession from a class B "minor misdemeanor" offense, with a maximum penalty of disciplinary probation, to a serious class A offense, for which students could be expelled.

Showing how in touch he is with student attitudes, Carpinelli told the Athens (Ohio) News last week: "Students recognize that drugs and possession are serious transgressions against the university, and it is my sense that most students would expect harsh rules for this issue." Oops, wrong again.

"We got 300 signatures against this silly idea in a day and a half," Ohio student Abby Bair told DRCNet. "We had seventy or eighty people ready to march, we had representatives from at least four different campus organizations. Once we get a thousand signatures we will turn in our petition, along with some very strong and solid arguments about why we are against this change in policy," said Bair, who heads the campus chapter of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (http://www.ssdp.org).

"I don't think Carpinelli knew we existed," said Bair. "He does now. This whole thing has really backfired on him."

And the rapid student response has had results. "The chair of the board of trustees met with me and told me he would suggest that the committee wait to vote on this," said Bair. "That would be a good first step in stopping this thing. And I will meet with Carpinelli next Friday. They are totally cooperating with us so far, so we may hold off on any demonstrations, but we are forming a watchdog committee to monitor this issue."

Student opposition to the proposed rule change extends beyond SSDP. "We are looking at forming a campus-wide coalition, which would include the campus SSDP, ACLU, Habitat for Humanity, and members of the student senate," said Bair. "The current penalties are harsh enough. By implementing a zero tolerance policy on our campus, the university will have the power to expel students for a minor misdemeanor. And it can have repercussions on their financial aid. If students have a criminal record, they can lose their loans."

Ohio University's current policy on marijuana is in line with state law, which treats possession of less than eight ounces as a misdemeanor. The proposed rule change would treat marijuana possession as severely as possession of harder drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, or ecstasy.

According to both Carpinelli and Bair, an increase in campus dorm marijuana busts sparked the proposed rule change. At 84 so far this year, the number of busts has almost doubled the figure for last year. Bair blames the increase not in a sudden explosion of stoners but on increased enforcement. "The reason why the number of arrests has increased is because the Resident Assistants (RAs) have become stricter. The police took them into a room and showed them what pot smelled like and told the RAs they have to call the university police department if they smell pot."

Bair is confident that SSDP and other students will prevail. "We formed an SSDP chapter because we are tired of this drug war bull. Our student senate unanimously passed a resolution endorsing HEA repeal [of the drug provision] last spring. Carpinelli needs to understand that his rule change goes against student values. I think he is starting to understand."

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