Marijuana use increases on campus

Marijuana incidents on campus have risen this semester, leaving some administrators puzzled.

“We strive for harm reduction with alcohol, but we really don’t know how to handle marijuana yet,” Director of Wellness Programs Melissa Sage-Bollenbach said.

Students caught with marijuana go through three one-hour counseling sessions in the Wellness Center’s Marijuana Intervention Program.

“We keep track of the client appointments we see,” Sage-Bollenbach said. “Last October we saw two students and this October we saw seven.”

Coordinator for the Alcohol Education and Awareness Program Lyndsey Hawkins said unordinary events are part of the rise.

“A big factor is some of the house busts that have happened, and those are kind of just by chance,” she said.

Hawkins said the ways to educate students about marijuana are unclear.

“There’s not a lot out there proven to effectively reduce marijuana abuse,” she said. “We’re waiting to see what emerges and what has been studied.”

Moving forward safely will be a hurdle, Hawkins said.

“We don’t know what to do yet, and we don’t have the funding or research like they do at other universities,” she said. “We worry that if we try to implement something without knowing much about it, it could cause more harm than good.”

Hawkins is allotted a 10 minute slot to speak at orientations about drugs and alcohol, which poses a challenge, she said.

“I talk about alcohol and marijuana, and I’ve amped up talking about consequences involved,” she said. “That’s effective because then they know what is expected of them, but that’s as much as I can do with the time I get.”

Executive Director for Residential Living Nathan Thomas said approaching marijuana use among students may become more difficult.

“Where it’s becoming unclear is as states legalize marijuana, we’re recruiting students from all over the country,” he said. “I think today everybody knows it’s illegal. There’s no question on that. But people’s beliefs on marijuana use are clearly different.”

Synthetic marijuana poses its own challenges, Thomas said.

“Synthetic marijuana is a problem because it’s legal today, but as of Jan. 1, it’s illegal,” he said. “So we are trying to decide how to handle it in reviewing the student handbook because the rules there are good for the year.”

Marijuana is approached differently than alcohol and other substances, Thomas said.

“In some ways it’s like alcohol, because it’s easily accessible and I’m assuming inexpensive,” he said.

Educating students is vital for the university, as is staying updated on the most recent drug and alcohol research, Sage-Bollenbach said.

“Because of the medical marijuana laws, the perception is that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol,” she said. “But both alcohol and marijuana are considered gateway drugs.”