• October 25, 2014

Waiting to Inhale: Rallies Today Will Promote Marijuana as a Solution to Campus Drinking

Nowhere is America's drinking problem more evident than among college students. Nearly 600,000 of them are injured in alcohol-related accidents, and 1,700 are killed each year, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drinking plays a role in nearly 700,000 physical assaults and more than 97,000 sexual assaults against students.

Today begins Alcohol Awareness Month, and to mark the occasion—and promote their own cause—students on more than 80 campuses in 34 states say they will rally for what they contend is a safer alternative to alcohol: marijuana.

Colleges themselves, organizers say, unwittingly encourage drinking by enforcing zero-tolerance policies against students who are caught smoking marijuana.

Rob Pfountz, a sophomore at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, says that at his campus, penalties for using marijuana are three times tougher than those used against underage students who are caught drinking.

"At the very least," he says, "penalties for marijuana should be no worse than for those against alcohol."

Mr. Pfountz is the campus spokesman for Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, or "Safer," the national pro-marijuana organization that is coordinating today's rallies. In Fayetteville, he says, students will gather on the mall outside the student union to distribute information about the relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol.

In interviews, Mr. Pfountz and Mason Tvert, executive director and one of the founders of Safer, rattle off statistics and statements about the dangers of alcohol. Among them: It contributes to aggressive behavior and can result in overdose, two problems not associated with marijuana.

Mr. Tvert, now six years removed from college, recalls his own experience with alcohol poisoning at age 18. He was taken to a hospital, treated, and released. "There was no investigation into who gave me the alcohol," he recalls. He contrasts that with his treatment by a multijurisdictional drug task force that he says investigated him extensively when he was caught using marijuana as a freshman at the University of Richmond.

"The purpose of this day of action is to really show that there's a growing movement of college students who are fed up with policies that punish them for making a rational choice," says Mr. Tvert.

Toward that end, Safer is taking a page from, and a shot at, another group that is involved in the debate over student drinking: the 135 college presidents who have signed the Amethyst Initiative, a statement asserting that the national drinking age of 21 has encouraged a culture of "dangerous, clandestine binge-drinking" and should be lowered. The presidents, led by John M. McCardell Jr., have been criticized by legislators and some substance-abuse experts, and vilified by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Mr. Tvert says that student activists will ask their college presidents today to sign Safer's counterpart, the Emerald Initiative. The document echoes the Amethyst stance by calling for "informed and dispassionate public debate"—but on marijuana, not on the legal drinking age. Safer sent the Emerald Initiative to Amethyst signatories, Mr. Tvert says, but not a single one would sign it.

The Amethyst presidents "accept the fact that college students party," Mr. Tvert says. "They just want them to be safe while doing it. Why not say 'party responsibly' instead of 'drink responsibly'?"

Mr. McCardell, who will become president of Sewanee: the University of the South on July 1, says the similarities between Amethyst and Emerald stop at their names.

"When it comes to the drinking age, we are talking about age discrimination based upon a false premise that adjusting the drinking age is the best way to increase traffic safety," he says. With marijuana, "there's no argument that, once you reach a certain age, you cease to pose a risk to others." It's simply illegal.

In some places however, that could be changing. Fifteen states have medical-marijuana laws on the books, and California is set to vote on outright legalization in November. And if Golden State voters decided to legalize marijuana for people 21 and over, would the Amethyst signatories rise up and defend the right of 18-year-olds to fire up their bongs?

Mr. McCardell says that while he can't speak for his peers, the question barely interests him. "Why are we alighting on the marijuana issue?" he asks. "Alcohol, in many ways, is a much more complicated issue."

As a college president—he led Middlebury College for a dozen years before stepping down in 2004—Mr. McCardell is deeply concerned about "the obviously harmful violent immediate effects that alcohol can bring about."

Marijuana is a different animal altogether, and Mr. McCardell's only question about Safer's argument regards its logic: Why would college administrators want students to substitute one drug for another?

Mr. Tvert responds: "It's not adding another vice. It's providing an alternative. A safer alternative." For better or worse, he says, many Americans like to relax with an intoxicant, be it a drink or a joint.

"Sobriety may be the safest alternative," he says, "but it's not a realistic alternative—at least for most students."

Comments

1. davi2665 - April 01, 2010 at 08:39 am

The advocates of this inane idea amply demonstrate the old adage, "The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limitations."

2. bot_warble - April 01, 2010 at 09:58 am

Here's to sobriety, first of all. But admit the inherent double-standard, witnessed here at Indiana University, where students binge drink openly on the streets, in broad daylight 24/7/365 while IU's bike cops swarm down on two or three kids hiding in the woods smoking a joint. It happens over and over again.

But this is the best: "Amethyst Initiative.....asserting that the national drinking age of 21 has encouraged a culture of "dangerous, clandestine binge-drinking."

Clandestine?! Who are they kidding. It's called ZERO ENFORCEMENT initiative as the very "students" (READ: Paying customers) they should be educating (READ: Jailing) are writing their paychecks.

Two degrees undergraduates here are are assured of obtaining: 1.) Double Standards; and 2.) Foundations of Alcoholism.

3. brianddusbiber - April 01, 2010 at 10:40 am

I question whether the down side of marijuana use/abuse is ever raised by this initiative. Research indicates marijuana's negative impact on memory retention, something misaligned with learning on a college campus. "Sorry I don't remember that part of my education, those were my marijuana years."

On a practical side where would these students smoke it? At most campuses, all indoor smoking is banned, including university-owned student housing. Do we think it's a good idea for them to smoke their "doobies" near the entrance doors? Do we think the admissions office staff would be thrilled to conduct their tours for high school and transfer students in such circumstances?

4. 22205373 - April 01, 2010 at 10:43 am

Funny that the article says nothing about the serious deleterious effects of moderate marijuana use, such as paranoia, lung cancer, impaired driving, underachievement, infertility, overeating, et cetera, et cetera. --Gentracles

5. ccluc002 - April 01, 2010 at 11:10 am

Is this an April Fools Day joke?

6. mssmiley - April 01, 2010 at 12:07 pm

What's next, small amount of "white stuff" to keep the students happy? Universities and college would best serve their students by implementing healty lifestyles and safe choice programs early on beginning in the freshman year. By the way, how do students propose that schools enforce this moderate marijuana use? This is absurd.

7. saferindc - April 01, 2010 at 12:24 pm

For those of you mocking the idea or expressing concern that marijuana somehow has too many harms associated with it to even consider the idea of allowing people to use it, please take a moment to think about the basic idea contained within this article: Marijuana is a less harmful alternative to alcohol. Do you agree or disagree with that basic statement of fact?

If you agree, why do you oppose policies that would diminsh punishments for people who choose to use the less harmful substance? Do you have some kind of moral opposition to marijuana use that justifies, in your mind, harsh punishments for marijuana users but slaps on the wrist (at most) for alcohol users.

If you disagree with the basic idea in the article -- that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol -- please do some research. By every possible measure, from overdose deaths to health effects to association with acts of violence, alcohol is far more harmful.

SAFER is promoting a policy that could make our campuses safer and reduce health risks to students. This may be April Fool's Day, but this is no joke.

8. mush9902 - April 01, 2010 at 01:16 pm

Watch yourself saferindc, critical thinking will make you part of the minority and could affect your social life. You have been warned.

9. johntoradze - April 01, 2010 at 01:21 pm

It's different than alcohol, apples and oranges. But it's not awful, and college students do it - a lot. I have a young man on campus who has chosen me (for some unknown reason) as his elder stoner confessor. (No, I don't use anything stronger than aspirin, but did in my teens.) It is rather amusing to hear him tell me about his latest lesson in how to get stoned.

A few months ago he was so enthusiastic about marijuana in a vaporizer. (And I suddenly got the joke in that Jack Black flick about "Va-poo-rize". Silly me.) Another time it was hash oil in the peanut butter, another psilocybin mycelium mixed in honey.

He's a nice kid; does well in his studies, kind and pretty balanced really. I just listen, don't encourage, don't say much of anything while he burbles on about his "hobby". He seems to be winding down, growing up, focusing more on his studies. I'm hoping he will get through without an arrest before graduating.

I would like to offer a 1 unit class on psychedelics on campus, but the idea isn't flying. I think it would help students have perspective all the way around. The Swiss, after all, are doing clinical research with it again.

10. davi2665 - April 01, 2010 at 02:15 pm

If the stoners want to sit around wasted, contemplating their navels, so be it. Just don't expect the rest of society to condone it and tell you what a WONDERFUL alternative "life style" you have discovered. Alcohol abuse is equally debilitating, but has been around for centuries and is legal, not to mention that the literature is showing that even moderate alcohol use is associated with considerable cardiovascular benefits and better all-cause mortality. However, the binge-drinking, which seems to be the mode on college campuses, and the ravages of chronic alcoholism are a blight on society and a huge cost in their human toll and medical expenditures. It is hardly a role model to emulate, so that we should see if we now can get enough stoners to destroy their minds and their health so that it, too, can become the chronic problem alcoholism is. And, of course, stoners and chronic binge drinkers/alcoholics are JUST the kind of employees that we want to risk the future of our businesses on. Whatever happened to the idea that a person's own talent, personality, brains, and interests can be a sustaining source of energy, drive, happiness, and peace in one's life, without seeking pharmacology of some sort to stupefy one's mind into the illusion of bliss. How utterly pathetic. This piece ought to be an April Fool's Day joke, but unfortunately it appears not to be, and the resultant consequences of alcohol overuse and drug use (prescription drug overuse included) are yet another toll that is dragging this once great nation into mediocrity.

11. mismos00 - April 01, 2010 at 03:31 pm

"Funny that the article says nothing about the serious deleterious effects of moderate marijuana use, such as paranoia, lung cancer, impaired driving, underachievement, infertility, overeating"

Seriously??!?!?!
Lung Cancer? Here is the largest study on that...
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/25/AR2006052501729.html

That was the most serious charge, the others like parinoia (probably becuase you have to worry about being caught), overeating (never heard of any study linking obesity to marijuana, but i'm open to the connection if you have a link), impaired driving (simple, this isn't an effect, it is a choice, but here http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/03/990325110700.htm), underachievement, straight from Reefer Madness (you probably think Carl Sagan, Paul McCartney, Lois Armstrong, Bill Clinton, Barrack Obama, Bob Dylan, John Lennon... all underachievers eh!). You probably also think marijuana causes brain damage, another urban myth. http://www.cmcr.ucsd.edu/geninfo/Reuters_062703.pdf

It's alcohol the leads to brain damage (as can be noticed from some of the response here) not marijuana.

Science and the medical establishment are settled as to which substances, alcohol or marijuana, are more harmful. And alcohol as won by a massive landslide (won, as in hunderds of times more harmful than MJ)

http://www.saferchoice.org/content/view/24/53/

12. mismos00 - April 01, 2010 at 03:41 pm

"If the stoners want to sit around wasted, contemplating their navels, so be it."

If you want to sit around drunk, puking on yourself and posing a danger to yourself and others, so be it. But while you're doing that I'll be completely safe, smoking a joint with friends and enjoying some good jazz.

"Alcohol abuse is equally debilitating"
If you looked at the facts and the science you would know that it is NO WHERE EQUAL to alcohol on ANY criterion you choose.
Toxicity, addictiveness, proclivity to violence, motor control, organ poisoning, overdose, withdraw symptoms, intoxication intensity, domestic assaults... on and on...
LOOK AT THE STUDIES... LOOK AT THE EVIDENCE.


Enjoy yourself, (knowing that by supporting alcohol legalization while at the same time supporting marijuana prohibition, you are helping to make this word a more dangerous, hypocritical, and less free place to live)

13. mismos00 - April 01, 2010 at 03:48 pm

"I question whether the down side of marijuana use/abuse is ever raised by this initiative. Research indicates marijuana's negative impact on memory retention, something misaligned with learning on a college campus. "Sorry I don't remember that part of my education, those were my marijuana years.""

But alcohol has the same memory effect...
http://alcoholism.about.com/cs/dementia/a/blacer030617.htm
...but alcohols effects on memory are permanent, but marijuana's effects on specifically short term memory, go away as soon as the person stops smoking.

"On a practical side where would these students smoke it? At most campuses, all indoor smoking is banned, including university-owned student housing. Do we think it's a good idea for them to smoke their "doobies" near the entrance doors? Do we think the admissions office staff would be thrilled to conduct their tours for high school and transfer students in such circumstances?"

There are other ways to use marijuana other than smoking.

So with all these arguements, it sounds like you guys must be against alcohol legalization as well. Otherwise you simply can't see your own hypocracy.

14. johntoradze - April 02, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Hypocracy - What democracy turns into when all of your politicians are liars.

Hypocrisy. Please mismosoo. This is, after all, about higher education.

15. sharonmurphy - April 02, 2010 at 12:47 pm

For all the pious and not-so-pious indignation, there is precious little recognition that alumni and faculty themselves encourage drinking by their jokes at orientation days, commencements, and other events. They talk about "rites of initiation"or " majoring in beer tasting," tell tales about their own alcohol-related excesses, and suggest, if only indirectly, that binges or drunken orgies are expected of any red-blooded student. As earlier comments have noted, there's all too much hypocrisy among the naked dons and their alumni.

16. acetylcholine - April 07, 2010 at 03:20 pm

I'm a student myself, and frankly, there's a third alternative: no booze, no marijuana.

Personally, I find anything other than sobriety unpleasant. I don't understand the drive to temporarily lose one's mental clarity.

17. gibstrat - April 15, 2010 at 05:21 pm

Having been both a marijuana smoker and occasional drinker (now) for over thirty years I can tell you without a doubt marijuana is safer and far more enjoyable. We're talking about a plant that has been on this earth as long as man as opposed to alcohol a noxious substance created by man. The only reason people fly off the handle whenever pot is mentioned is because they don't understand it and have no experience with it. Granted a novice may not appreciate the calm and euphoria that is experienced and may be uncomfortable with it at first. Also it is not a gateway drug for anyone old enough to know better. Some things will kill and pot itself will not. It's because government has forbid it and doesn't take statistics into account that there is so much paranoia over it. It's the archaic marijuana laws that cause all the problems, not the product. Look at famous pot smokers past and present who have risen to great heights. The facts speak for themselves. Until people are ready to take a serious look at alternatives, pot arrests will continue and families will continue to be torn apart by unconstitutional and liberty abusing laws.

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