Now that marijuana is legal in D.C., students at George Washington University are hoping some of the city’s new marijuana freedom trickles down to them. Two students are running for Student Association Senate seats on platforms to reform campus drug policies, calling for the private university’s administration to align its policies more with municipal government laws.
The student Senate cannot actually change school policy, but it can pass resolutions urging the university to change its governance.
“I view it as less about power and more about access,” said sophomore Nick Watkins, president of GW’s chapter for Students for Sensible Drug Policy, who is running for a seat on the student body Senate. “So just by e-mailing administrators as a student association senator, it gives me legitimacy and it gives anything I say about what we want legitimacy because I was voted in by the student body.”
GW’s Students for Sensible Drug Policy helped register voters ahead of last November’s vote on Initiative 71, the overwhelmingly approved voter initiative that legalized possession and use of marijuana.
Marijuana legalization went into effect in D.C. last week, but the university has repeatedly said it would not be following suit and the drug would still be banned from campus. The university receives federal funding and says it must abide by federal laws, which prohibits everyone, even those over 21, from possessing and using marijuana.
“Despite the results of Initiative 71 in the District of Columbia, GW policy does not permit students, faculty, staff or visitors to possess or use marijuana for any purpose,” university spokesman Maralee Csellar wrote in an e-mail. “GW’s policy is consistent with and required by federal law, and GW’s Code of Student Conduct will continue to subject students who possess or use marijuana to disciplinary sanctions.”
Watkins said he realizes getting the university to budge on this right now would be futile, but sees other areas where policy could more realistically be amended. As a student senator, he said, he would call on the university to make the consequences for being caught with marijuana on par to that of getting in trouble for alcohol. Currently, the recommended minimum sanction for a first-time alcohol policy violation is a $50 fine, censure and required participation in an alcohol education program, according to the Code of Student Conduct. For a first time drug offense, which includes marijuana, students could also receive disciplinary probation and face eviction from their residence halls.
“Depending upon other potential violations or factors, the university has the ability to remove a student from housing, however in the vast majority of cases, we defer a student’s loss of housing provided that they are not found in violation of a subsequent violation,” Csellar wrote in an e-mail.
The hopeful senators, Watkins and fellow Sensible Drug Policy leader Charles Spirtos, want the university to allow qualified students to use medical marijuana — something that is also in violation of federal law.
The third prong of Watkins’s largely drug-focused platform is to push the administration to expand its “Alcohol Medical Amnesty Program” to include drugs other than just alcohol. That policy says a student medically treated for drinking too much alcohol will not face any disciplinary action. The person that makes the call for medical help is also protected from any school repercussions.
The District has a similar law in place, The Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Amendment Act of 2012, which protects people from legal ramifications if they are seeking help for someone who appears to suffering from an overdose of alcohol or other drugs.
Like GWU, universities across D.C. prohibit marijuana on campus despite D.C. government considering small amounts of the drug legal.
“Our campus policies will not change and we will continue to comply with the federal laws,” Georgetown University spokeswoman Rachel Pugh wrote in an e-mail.
The GW student election will be held March 25 and 26, and Watkins and Spirtos both face competition for their seats. Read more about it in the student newspaper, The Hatchet.