Group pushes for GW to change marijuana policy

A new student organization is trying to persuade GW to lessen its penalties for drug violations, particularly for students who lose University housing after being caught with marijuana in their dorm rooms.

Students in GW’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said they are critical of GW’s policy against marijuana use because students can be evicted from campus after one drug offense. Junior Ronald Fisher, GW NORML president, said he thinks drug violations involving marijuana should be treated similarly to an alcohol violation.

“The fact that the University allows several alcohol violations before being kicked out of residence halls but has a zero-tolerance policy for marijuana is ridiculous,” he said.

GW NORML, whose membership has grown to about 155 students since it began this year, is appealing to the University’s top administrators to fuel change and hopes to eliminate the part of the Student Code of Conduct that says students can lose housing after one drug offense.

“We are currently participating in a letter-writing campaign to convince (University) President (Stephen Joel) Trachtenberg and the Board of Trustees to change the ‘one strike and you are out’ policy for housing,” Fisher said. “NORML isn’t asking for marijuana to be allowed on campus. We just want to make marijuana punishments equal to alcohol punishments.”

Trachtenberg said in an interview with The Hatchet Monday that the University will “probably not” change its drug policies as a result of the group’s efforts, adding that many schools have embraced zero tolerance.

“Universities have become very cautious with these things,” Trachtenberg said. “If they are going to make a mistake, it is going to be on the side of caution. We are driven by our sense of responsibility but also by our sense of liability.”

Trachtenberg is familiar with the fight over marijuana. In 1972 he wrote an article, published in the Federal Bar Journal and co-authored by Lewis J. Paper, concluding that marijuana should be decriminalized.

“I’ve moved more to the right since then,” Trachtenberg said Monday. “This is because contemporary research suggests that marijuana is more damaging in the long run than I knew when I wrote that article.”

GW’s drug policy seems to be similar to the policies at nearby schools. American and Georgetown universities both employ penalties similar to GW’s in response to marijuana violations, and the loss of campus housing is included as a possible ramification at those schools.

Students at Boston University also face eviction from housing and possible expulsion if caught using illegal drugs in or near dorms. New York University’s drug policy states that consequences of drug violations include everything from expulsion to “removal of privileges” at that university.

Fisher said he does not see the organization’s request as unreasonable.

“College kids die nationwide every year because of alcohol,” he said. “Not once has anyone died from marijuana.”

Tara Woolfson, director of Student Judicial Services, said the University fully administers the GW Code of Student Conduct, which prohibits the “possession of illegal drugs or controlled substances.” The code also recommends cancellation of a student’s housing license agreement as the minimum sanction for students found in violation of possession of illegal drugs, including marijuana.

Woolfson said three students have been found in violation of the policy this year, but she couldn’t comment on how many have actually lost housing as a result.

“In the case of drug possession, cancellation of Housing License Agreement is the minimum sanction recommended,” she wrote in an e-mail.

“Depending on the severity of the case and the student’s judicial history, a student’s sanction may be more or less severe than what is recommended,” she added. She had no comment on the NORML movement on campus.

There are about 50 NORML chapters on college campuses this year working to combat their colleges’ marijuana policies as well as federal and state laws which prohibit marijuana.

NORML chapters have also sprung up recently at both American University and the University of Maryland to promote the decriminalization of marijuana. American’s NORML began last year as the first college chapter in D.C.

GW NORML will also be mailing more than 80 letters encouraging congressional representatives and senators to repeal the Higher Education Act’s drug provision, which was added in 1998 and blocks students with drug convictions from federal financial aid, making more than 175,000 college students ineligible for federal loans, grants and work study.

-Katie Rooney contributed to this report.

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