Column: SJS must revise hookah policy

University policy states that if a hookah is discovered in your room, it may be confiscated by University Police for testing. If it turns out that you were using it for its intended purpose – smoking flavored tobacco – you get it back. However, if they realize that you still have your hookah, they can re-confiscate it, re-test it and return it to you after they realize once again that you’re using it for what it’s made for. But wait, there’s more. If they, in their infinite wisdom, once again realize that you have a hookah, they can once again take it, test it and give it back to you. I could go on, but the point is clear.

Why do we have this policy? Because you could use a hookah to smoke marijuana, much in the same way a cigar can become a blunt, or a cigarette with its filter removed can be filled with pot. The difference is, it’s a hookah. This explanation of University policy concerning hookahs took me nearly 30 hours to extract from Student Judicial Services. You see, my hookah was confiscated by UPD because officers saw it when they responded to a noise complaint (yes, some student decided that rather than knock on my door and ask me to turn down my music at about 8 p.m. on a weekend, he should instead call the police). After a week or so, UPD confirmed that the hookah was in fact clean and was being used for tobacco. Furthermore, when I was making arrangements to pick up the hookah, UPD informed me that I could not take the hookah back to my room because I was not permitted to have it on campus. This was a bit different from what they told me when they took it: after the hookah has been tested, you can pick it up and bring it back to your room.

Discouraged, I spoke with SJS, who told me they would “get back to me.” I called twice more, and twice more I was promised a return call. The third time I called, the staffer seemed angry and told me they had other things to do. Realistically, I wasn’t asking for a discussion about the University’s philosophy on law and order; I was asking about a single rule. Still discouraged, I spoke with a Community Living and Learning Center staffer, who said she could not get a straight answer either after contacting SJS. In fact, she was under the impression that they didn’t even have a clear understanding of what their policy should be.

And so, the search continued. My next stop was the Center for Alcohol and other Drug Education, where they at least read me the policy, but they refused to tell me whether it meant I could or could not have a hookah in my room (I was told they’re not permitted to make such interpretations). Hoping to get some sort of resolution before they closed for the weekend, I walked one last time to SJS. Finally, at long last, I was told that I was allowed to keep the hookah in my room, but it was subject to confiscation at any time. Wonderful.

What’s interesting is that University policy, in writing, describes a hookah as drug paraphernalia and says that the punishment for having such paraphernalia that tests negative (meaning there is no sign that illegal drugs were ever in it) involves a $50 fine, disciplinary probation, an educated choices class and a deferred cancellation of housing. I think SJS is realizing that this policy is entirely irrational, which is why it took them so long to give me an answer. Now they need to communicate to UPD that the policy has been revised, because UPD clearly has not realized this yet.

The assertion that a hookah is drug paraphernalia in the first place is both ignorant and, frankly, insulting. Hookahs are Middle Eastern water pipes designed for smoking flavored tobacco. Just because somebody decides to use a hookah for pot instead of the intended tobacco does not mean hookahs should be classified as drug paraphernalia. Ironically, not even shot glasses are considered any sort of paraphernalia. I think we can all agree that shot glasses are not intended for you to drink milk with your well-balanced diet.

Not only does this policy violate the basic tenets of due process – not the least of which is probable cause for search and seizure – but it is also ignorant and culturally insensitive. I’m glad SJS is moving toward allowing hookahs, but they now need to work on respecting a fundamental principle in democracy – the presumption of innocence.

-The writer is a sophomore
majoring in political science and
Middle East studies.

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