Pubdate: Fri, 03 Feb 2012 Source: Cavalier Daily (U of VA Edu) Copyright: 2012 The Cavalier Daily, Inc. Contact: http://www.cavalierdaily.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/550 Author: Sam Carrigan, Columnist A JOINT DECISION The University Should Embrace Del. Englin's Proposal to Consider The Evidence for Marijuana Legalization Before Making Policy Decisions Del. David Englin, D-Alexandria, recently proposed legislation which would call for a study to evaluate the revenue impact of regulating and selling marijuana through Virginia's Alcoholic Beverage Control stores. Seeing as 14 states have decriminalized medicinal marijuana, this is a fairly modest proposal. Englin said his bill merely "asks the question of if we sold marijuana through ABC stores, how much money would we get?" It is easy to imagine the budgetary boon that would come from the state's profit off the ever-persistent demand for marijuana, but it is also worth thinking about how decriminalizing the drug may benefit the University community, as well. First, it is worth noting that the vast majority of University students have proven responsible enough with that great intoxicant of choice, alcohol. University student surveys indicate that three-fourths of first-year students either do not drink or drink modestly. While this may violate strict federal regulations, we can see that most first-year students, and presumably the wiser upperclassmen, do not drink enough to seriously harm themselves or others. If there are University regulations against consuming certain goods, the goal of such regulations ought to be minimizing the harm done to the students and their community. Why, then, would the case be so different if these 18-year-old adults were having their friends pick up an eighth-ounce of marijuana instead of handles of vodka at the ABC store? Here is the problem that lies with the one-quarter of first years who drink excessively. These may be the students who are most likely to be loud and belligerent on the Corner, as well as prone to destroying property. Do we have reason to expect that giving wider legal access to an alternative intoxicant would cause these people to live more dangerously or put themselves and others at greater risk than currently? I doubt that. Alcohol, after all, is widely known to prompt potentially risky behaviors that marijuana does not. Part of the motivation young people have to drink is to overcome their inhibitions and take risks that they would normally avoid. This results in many situations which students come to regret. Marijuana, on the other hand, is more likely to fuel regrettable snacking decisions than any of the more dire consequences associated with alcohol. Alcohol, as a legal drug, places a constant pressure on the University's hospital resources by creating the need for rapid medical responses. As a resident of Brown Residential College -- named after the "Brown" of the Brown-Forman Corporation, which makes Jack Daniel's whiskey -- I live at the geographical midpoint between Old Dorms and Rugby Road. The stairs surrounding Brown have proven to be a treacherous part of the first-year students' stumbling walk home. All too often an ambulance has had to pull up in the middle of the night to retrieve a student, prostrate on the pavement, who is suffering from alcohol poisoning and possibly even badly injured because of a fall on these stairs. Does this mean we should make drinking alcohol illegal? No, not any more than it means we should criminalize stairs. Marijuana, of course, has the reputation of restricting its users' mobility by simply keeping them from wanting to stand up. If the rationale for banning substances is going to be their likelihood to bring harm upon users, then alcohol demands more scrutiny. This is, of course, neglecting the most vital difference between the two drugs. If one drinks too much alcohol, he or she will die. If one smokes too much marijuana, he or she will most likely fall asleep. We have seen that about a quarter of students are going to be drinking excessively and living recklessly during their first year here. There is a reason why the University's Substance Abuse Prevention website has a guide for attempting to give lifesaving help to a potentially "violent and uncooperative" drunk, while no similar advice is available, or necessary, for typically placid stoners. And still, Resident Advisors are told to call the police if they have even the slightest suspicion that marijuana is being consumed in their dorms, while cases involving alcohol often receive gentler recourses and greater understanding. The University has an admirable framework for dealing with issues of alcohol abuse, but incoming first years still have the impression that we live in a den of raging alcohol issues, according to student surveys. The University community has the chance to come out strongly in support of Englin's legislation, not only to assist the public budget in these times of austerity, but also to emphasize the safety benefits that universities across the state would enjoy if alcohol no longer held the legal monopoly on means of intoxication. If our administration is skeptical about the idea, then it should follow Englin's example and perform a study weighing the costs and benefits of a change in marijuana policy. Leaving its Resident Advisors free to deal with more pressing issues and decreasing the number of ambulance rides and stomach-pumpings at the University Hospital may prove financially beneficial. This is a time to discard old superstitions about drugs and strive for policy grounded in evidence, lest our chances at a safer, more responsible academic community go up in smoke. - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.