Drug policy half-baked

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March 23, 2010

1:10 AM

It’s an undeniable fact that, as with every university in the nation, some students at the College of William and Mary will inevitably use illegal drugs. This is a problem no degree of regulation or rhetoric can ever hope to solve completely. We can only, with the help of effective policy, hope to mitigate it, and yet, the College’s Drug and Alcohol Policy is currently proving ineffective in this regard and deserves to be amended. The document, as it stands, is unacceptable in several respects: it’s vague, it omits key aspects of the policy’s execution, and it is inconsistent in its relationship to current Virginia law.

The policy’s first and foremost problem is one of clarity. The current iteration of the document is nearly inscrutable. It includes page upon page of the possible legal charges for alcohol and drug possession, as well as information on the risks associated with drug use and alcohol consumption. The College’s actual policy in regard to drugs and alcohol is relegated to the space of a few, short paragraphs.

Furthermore, the language contained in those few paragraphs is deliberately vague. It mentions only the range of penalties available for alcohol violations — from warning to probation — as well as for drug violations — probation to expulsion. No provisions are discussed regarding mitigating factors that might influence the penalty, such as number of previous offenses, distinction between possession and consumption, or the severity of the drug in question. This suggests a lack of conformity with Virginia statutes governing drugs and alcohol.

We understand that to some extent the language has to be vague; administrators need to make decisions on a case-by-case basis. Vagueness to this degree, however, often leaves students unaware of the possible consequences of their actions. As a result, key facets of the College drug policy, although acting in the same manner as these explicit policies, are not openly codified.

One critical example is found in how Resident Assistants are told to handle possible violations. RAs are told to attempt to resolve suspected alcohol violations without the police; in this aspect, the administration values student health and safety over explicit enforcement of the law. But if drug use is suspected, RAs are commanded to contact the police immediately, and yet at no point is the distinction between the enforcement of alcohol violations and that of drug possession ever adequately explained in the Drug and Alcohol policy, despite being the explicit method of its enforcement.

That this procedure is never made clear is important because it’s the part of the drug and alcohol policy most in need of reform. As is fairly clear from national statistics, recreational use of marijuana continues to rise, to roughly a third of students nationwide in 2007. As a rule, the use of drugs such as marijuana will therefore become increasingly difficult to deal with on a zero-tolerance basis; some effort toward rehabilitation needs to be made. But instead, our drug policy, by immediately resorting to police involvement and probation, provides little room for leniency.

This is not a policy that acts in the best interests of students. Automatically deferring to the police in every instance of suspected drug use is unreasonable — especially since violations of underage alcohol consumption are not necessarily reported, and not informing students of that policy is underhanded. We would suggest merely reporting the offender to the Dean of Students, and then deciding the best way to correct that student’s drug problems while remaining a part of the College, should at least remain an option.
Yes, there’s a point at which drug use becomes an insurmountable obstacle to remaining a part of the College community. We believe that, depending on mitigating circumstances, a first offense needs not be that point. Without addressing that fact, the College drug and alcohol policy will continue to fail students.

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