Pubdate: Thu, 05 Apr 2007
Source: Arkansas Traveler, The (AR Edu)
Copyright: 2007 The Arkansas Traveler
Author: Jonathan Crabtree
Bookmark:  (NORML)


The president of the UA chapter of the National Organization for the 
Reform of Marijuana Laws spoke to the student senate on behalf of a 
resolution designed to better define the UA policy for punishing 
students who have abused alcohol or marijuana.

Jordan Dickerson, president of NORML, came prepared to the Associated 
Student Government Senate session Tuesday. Armed with a binder of 
articles, charts and graphs, he succinctly answered questions with 
facts and statistics in a straightforward manner.

"We believe that marijuana is safer than alcohol, and it should be 
treated as such," he said. "Marijuana has not been responsible for 
one death in recorded history." The same cannot be said for alcohol, 
according to the resolution. The Centers for Disease Control reported 
20,067 alcohol-induced deaths in 2003.

"The actual risks of marijuana are bronchitis, short-term memory loss 
and the exacerbation of existing mental illness," Dickerson said. 
Then, for nearly one minute, he enumerated 35 fatal diseases for 
which alcohol is directly responsible. This list did not include 
alcohol-related deaths because of drowning, homicide or 
alcohol-induced car accidents.

When Sen. Will Morrow asked him where his information came from, 
Dickerson responded, "A survey of commission by CNN and Time Magazine in 2002."

Another issue the Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation 
Resolution was designed to address was the UA's lack of a concrete 
policy and procedure for students who are in possession or are under 
the influence of marijuana. The current policy states that a student 
will be subject to disciplinary proceedings, but does not specify 
what those disciplinary proceedings are. This lack of policy was made 
public by the recent events surrounding Charles McClure, NORML vice president.

On Feb. 7, 2007, McClure entered his dorm room to find two police 
officers searching his room with his roommate's permission. The 
officers were looking for marijuana after someone reported smells of 
it. When the officers left McClure's room, they told him that they 
had found nothing and that no crime had been committed, Dickerson said.

Several weeks later, McClure received a notice that he would be 
subject to a hearing with the judicial board because "the officer 
said that he had found an 'unmeasurable amount of marijuana' in a 
sock in his room," Dickerson said. McClure was then informed that the 
evidence no longer existed and had been destroyed. He is still 
waiting for the outcome of his hearing.

There should be clear guidelines and evidence should be obtained and 
preserved, Dickerson said. "It's almost like getting pulled over, 
taking a breathalyzer test, having a cop tell you, 'You're sober. You 
can drive home.' And then later receiving a letter saying that you 
have a ticket for drunk driving," he said. "If there is a crime, they 
should tell you at the time and not after the fact."

In several cases, the UA has punished students who were caught off 
campus with marijuana.

The current policy states that generally, for a first offense, a 
student will receive conduct probation, for a second offense, 
possible suspension and for a third offense possible expulsion for 
one year, Dickerson said.

"I was told [by the UA administration] that the first time you're 
caught, you will definitely be put on at least conduct probation; the 
second time, you will at least be suspended for a period no less than 
one year; and the third time, you will be expelled, no questions 
asked," McClure said. The problem was that these policies were not 
specifically written down.

Morrow expressed concern that marijuana is a "gateway" drug.

"The real gateway drugs in America," Dickerson replied, "are 
cigarettes, alcohol and caffeine. Most people will try one, two or 
all of those before they try marijuana."

The members of NORML share the opinion that most students at the UA 
who have smoked marijuana are not using harder drugs, and are more or 
less law-abiding citizens, McClure said.

Dickerson backed up McClure by saying the percentage of the American 
public who has used marijuana has been in the double digits for 
decades, while the percentage of users of harder drugs has almost 
always remained in the single digits.

Dickerson acknowledged that marijuana is an illegal substance and 
that the UA has an obligation to follow all state and federal laws, 
but said the UA should not "tack on additional penalties beyond those 
that are mandated by law."

"We believe that the university should focus on providing students 
with the best information possible about drugs and their dangers," 
Dickerson said. "For students who choose to make bad decisions, the 
university should be there to support them and not punish them 
unfairly by those penalties.

"We hope in the end to establish a fair and equitable system that 
protects the interests of this institution and promotes learning 
without unduly punishing students," Dickerson said. "We hope that the 
Senate will support us on this resolution and upon passing it, join 
us in meeting with the administration to reach an agreement that 
addresses both the concerns of the students and the needs of the 

Sen. Hannah Roe asked Dickerson if he thought the UA would raise the 
penalties on alcohol to match the existing penalties for marijuana 
use if the resolution was passed.

"We understand that any final policy will be entirely up to the 
administration," Dickerson said. "But we're hoping that they will 
take our concerns and opinions into consideration if they do choose 
to revise their policies. We do not think that the correct direction 
is an increase in penalties, but perhaps an increase in education."

One major reason Sen. Jacob Holloway sponsored the SAFER resolution 
was that he spoke to his constituents about it, and the subject is 
something that they're concerned about, he said.

"I'm very confident that we'll get at least some version of this 
resolution passed," Dickerson said. "But I'm not sure if it will make 
it through without suffering some amendments."

The UA would be hesitant to do anything that rocked the boat because 
they receive public donations and funding from state and federal 
government, Dickerson said. "But we also think that they're not going 
to go out of their way to do something just to spite the students," 
he said. "We hope we can meet with them to come to some sort of 
understanding that makes everyone happy."

The resolution will be voted on at the Senate meeting next week.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom