Pubdate: Fri, 03 Feb 2012
Source: Cavalier Daily (U of VA Edu)
Copyright: 2012 The Cavalier Daily, Inc.
Author: Sam Carrigan, Columnist 


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. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.