Maryland Students Vote To Ease Marijuana Penalties

Maryland Students Vote To Ease Marijuana Penalties
Posted by CN Staff on April 26, 2006 at 08:00:33 PT
By Zachary Barter
Source: Brown Daily Herald
Rhode Island -- Students at the University of Maryland, College Park joined a growing national movement this month when they approved a referendum calling for a relaxation of the school's marijuana policies.The referendum, which was included on the ballot for student government elections, urges administrators to penalize marijuana possession the same way as alcohol violations.
Nearly two-thirds of students supported the measure, though only 4,500 of the school's 25,000 undergraduates voted in the election.The vote carries only symbolic weight, as students have no power to change the school's drug policy. But administrators said they will examine the issue."All actions taken by our student government are taken seriously," said Millree Williams, director of university communications. "The university will give it consideration, as it does any student initiative."In recent years, students at the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, the University of Texas and Florida State University have passed similar proposals, though the efforts have not yet prompted any of the schools to revise their policies.Maryland senior Damien Nichols, president of the school's chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the leader of the referendum campaign, said he recognizes the referendum is not a "quick fix" to the school's drug policies, which he described as "awful" and said were responsible for an "epidemic" of arrests and evictions on campus. "The referendum was one step of many," he said. "Now it's time to get our nose to the grindstone."In the months ahead, Nichols said he and his supporters will be drafting specific proposals and lobbying administrators to change the current policy.But while advocates for reform can now claim to have student support behind them, their prospects for success are far from certain."They have an uphill battle ahead of them," said Devin Ellis, a Maryland senior and chief of staff of the school's Student Government Association. "Really, the people who they're going to have to go after are the state-level decision-makers."Still, Ellis said he thinks Nichols and his supporters made a good move by gauging students' opinions on the issue."They've really gotten very organized this year," he said. "They knew exactly what they wanted and exactly how to go about getting it."Nichols decided to push for the referendum after he was contacted by a representative of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, a Denver-based non-profit that promotes marijuana as an alternative to alcohol. In November 2005, SAFER achieved its biggest victory to date when Denver residents voted to decriminalize the possession and consumption of less than one ounce of marijuana.But even as the movement to relax drug policies gathers strength at schools across the country, Daniel MacCombie '08, president of Brown's SSDP chapter, said he does not anticipate replicating the actions of his Maryland counterparts."Brown students are pretty satisfied right now with how the University deals with drug abuse," MacCombie said, describing the school's policy as "reasonable" and "equitable."In addition, MacCombie said, Brown currently does not have a mechanism for the type of referendum passed at Maryland, though he said it might be possible to demonstrate student support for potential reforms by pressuring the Undergraduate Council of Students to pass a resolution on the issue or including a question on a WebCT poll.MacCombie said the preponderance of evidence is on the side of those who support the relaxation of marijuana laws."All the scientific evidence has shown that the negative consequences of marijuana are equal to, if not less than, those of alcohol," he said. "Current differences between alcohol and marijuana punishments are due to politics, not science." Source: Brown Daily Herald, The (Brown, RI Edu)Author: Zachary BarterPublished: April 26, 2006Copyright: 2006 The Brown Daily HeraldContact: letters browndailyherald.comWebsite: Articles & Web Sites:SSDP Choice U-Md. Students Vote to Soften Pot Penalties Pushing To Legalize Marijuana Statewide 
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