University officials said this spring that drug distribution violations rose during this past academic year. While many of the students arrested for dealing marijuana were prosecuted in District court, they faced severe consequences within the University's own judicial processes.
The University's punishment for drug distribution can be as severe as expulsion, and several vocal students and organizations have said that this is too harsh. Administrators argue that the current policy is beneficial to the GW community. Despite measures from student activists, the University seems staunch in its opposition to easing clamps on marijuana rules.
According to the University Police Department crime log, there have been at least five drug law arrests this past year. Drug law arrests include a variety of illicit substances but exclude alcohol.
The four students arrested for possession with intent to distribute marijuana were all processed by Metropolitan Police Department's second precinct, plead guilty to various marijuana charges, and received different levels of probation and community service, according to court documents. Despite the outcome in court, a University spokesperson confirmed none of the four students were enrolled at GW as of May 1.
Student Judicial Services
Director of Student Judicial Services Tara Woolfson said previously that drug distribution cases are typically judged at the University hearing board level.
The board is made up of as many as five student members and one faculty or staff member. It hears high-level, non-academic disciplinary cases that could result in the cancellation of a student's residence hall license agreement, suspension or expulsion from the University.
Woolfson said following an arrest, SJS begins its own investigative process and advises the student of their rights when he or she is suspected of violating the Code of Student Conduct.
According to the code, the minimum sanction for the possession and intent to sell drugs is a one-year suspension. The University considers the offense of distribution serious enough to merit the sanctions of suspension or expulsion, Woolfson said.
"The University takes distribution incredibly seriously," Woolfson said. "It is behavior that is just unacceptable among GW students at any level . and it will lead you to being suspended or expelled from the University. It's not something that we waver on. This type of violation, as it is so egregious, makes the decision to suspend or expel quite easy."
The Code of Student Conduct also defines distribution as the "sale, exchange or transfer" of drugs, Woolfson said.
Because the University's definition of distribution is broader than the D.C. criminal justice system's, many students found distributing drugs are not arrested by MPD but could be severly punished by the University. Referral to MPD is up to the UPD officer's discretion, UPD Chief Dolores Stafford said.
Stafford also said that SJS acts as a diversion program to punish student offenders without sending them into the court system.
"The criminal justice system has various diversion programs for various offenses and the student judicial system is a type of diversion program for minor offenses," Stafford wrote in an e-mail. "We meet regularly with various relevant offices in the city to discuss these matters."
Changing the Code
Organizations such as GW's chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) have called for a general reduction of all marijuana sanctions in the Code of Student Conduct.
"When caught, I would understand if (distributors) were punished more harshly than those using (marijuana) recreationally," said Greg Hersh, former president of GW NORML. "But at the same time I think our policy should be lighter because whatever avenue the school is using to get rid of pot from GW is not working."
Hersh, a senior, said the increased number of violations proves that the zero-tolerance policy toward marijuana is ineffective.
"If they're busting more then I'm assuming there are more" Hersh said. "That means there is more demand so that means it's proof that people are continuing to smoke pot even though (the number of) distributors is going down."
Hersh said the University's Code of Student Conduct could adopt programs run by the D.C. criminal justice system requires marijuana offenders to do community service instead of other sanctions.
"Anyone would rather clean toilets than lose their housing," Hersh said. "It's something we've never really proposed to GW as a way of changing the Code of Conduct."
Other universities, including New York, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Georgetown and Brown universities have lesser restrictions on marijuana usage than GW, Hersh said.
"I would not be in support of changing the current policy as it has continually had a positive impact on the University community for many years," Woolfson previously told The Hatchet.
University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg previously said that any changes made to GW's rules should be compliant with federal law.
"It probably makes sense (for students) not to seek an act that actually calls on GW to violate the laws of the District of Columbia or the United States of America," Trachtenberg said.
This spring, NORML created a resolution in the Student Association senate to lower marijuana sanctions. Though the legislation passed the senate, former SA President Lamar Thorpe vetoed the proposal. Hersh said NORML is working to re-examine changes to the Code of Student Conduct for next year.
A committee composed of members of the Student Association and various faculty members will be formed next year to formulate a proposal, Hersh said. Sociology Professor William Chambliss, an expert in drug law and drug abuse, is one of the faculty members on the committee.
Chambliss said he believes the increase in the number of arrests is not the result of more drug users or distributors.
"If there are more cases it is because they're enforcing the law more," Chambliss said. "It is certainly not because there are more students using drugs on campus."
"There's a predictable number of students every year who want to experiment with drugs of various types and the drugs they experiment with change from year to year, but the usage of drugs is very constant whether you're talking about the students at GW or the population as a whole," Chambliss said.
None of the four students arrested on distribution charges were enrolled at the University as of May 1, Director of Media Relations Tracy Schario said. She declined to provide any other information about the student's status at GW to maintain their privacy.
All four students declined to comment and did not respond to e-mails from The Hatchet.