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Synthetic marijuana widely used at Naval Academy, some midshipmen say

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He said the habit did not impede his studies. But a former student recalled some of the brigade dwelling in a haze induced by synthetic marijuana.

"People would come into class high," he said. "They couldn't even focus; they couldn't write down what was going on."

The current and former midshipmen say the investigation began in October because of a tip from a midshipman whose girlfriend had threatened to report him if he didn't come clean.

Navy investigators seized a sheet of notebook paper, later leaked to the Navy Times, that laid out an apparent plan for a synthetic marijuana ring. Handwritten notes listed 18 potential customers and designs for the off-campus party house to be outfitted with a lava lamp, big-screen TV, "stocked fridge," dance floor, strobe lights and a "giant bong."

The inquiry moved slowly at first. It was hard to pin blame on midshipmen who weren't caught red-handed.

A break in investigation

That changed one December night when a midshipman smoking synthetic marijuana began having seizures. A midshipman who was passing by resuscitated him. Someone dialed 911. When rescuers arrived, one member of the group admitted smoking the substance.

"It was in everyone's best interest," said the friend who made the admission, who has been expelled.

The investigation accelerated. Academy leaders began stepping up "health and wellness checks," a protocol that allows them to search midshipmen's rooms. Cars and lockers were searched, testimony taken, names dropped.

Some midshipmen were caught in possession of synthetic marijuana or admitted smoking it. Others were disciplined based primarily on the word of others.

Some expelled midshipmen say the investigation has been less than fair. One says he never actually smoked synthetic marijuana but was disciplined for allegedly doing so. Others contend investigators have treated star athletes with lenience. The brigade hasn't forgotten the case of Marcus Curry, a standout football player who was allowed to remain at the academy in the 2009-10 school year after failing a drug test for marijuana.

"They push them under the rug," said one former student who was on the wrestling team.

Academy officials say every case has been handled fairly. They say that athletes have been investigated and expelled and that the small number of confirmed synthetic marijuana cases is not confined to any one team.

"Our standards are clear - spice has no place at USNA or in the naval service," said Miller, the superintendent. "Our purpose is to produce leaders, and as such, we will not graduate or commission any illicit drug user - this type of character flaw is simply incompatible with leading the sailors of the 21st century."

devised@washpost.com


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