On Sept. 1 2011, four Drake University students in Ross Hall were found in possession of marijuana.
Des Moines Police found medicine vials with marijuana and stems in them, pipes, glass jars containing marijuana, grinders, a one-hitter, a marijuana vaporizer, water bongs, several containers with marijuana residue and a scale, according to a Times-Delphic article.
The students were taken to the Polk County Jail. All four faced fines, court fees and university sanctions; some had previously been caught with marijuana on campus.
Although an extreme drug-related case, it started off a year that has seen large increases in marijuana usage at Drake.
Campus security responds to about 20 to 25 drug cases in an average calendar year. The fall 2011 semester alone, 23 students were involved in drug-related cases. Although the full academic year’s cases have not yet been totaled, Director of Campus Security Hans Hanson estimates the number to be in the mid 30s. Of the drug cases, more than 90 percent were marijuana-related.
“We’ll get one or two cases a year that go beyond marijuana, like illegal use of prescription drugs. We’ll also get about one case of manufacturing or delivering, which is a much more serious case,” Hanson said, “but most are just small cases of marijuana.”
According to a survey released last May, the Partnership at Drugfree.org found that nearly 1 in 10 teens smoke marijuana 20 or more times a month.
Dean of Students Sentwali Bakari has also noticed a pattern of increased usage at Drake.
“I think marijuana is a trend on college campuses and always has been for years, even when I was in college,” Bakari said. “Marijuana is not as big of an issue here at Drake as we see alcohol. But this year, compared to some other years, we have seen an increase.”
Hanson has seen years with more drug-related calls than others in the past, too, but cannot give reasons for the increase.
“For whatever reason in the world it is, you’ll get a class that comes through the system that is just a little more rowdy, just a little more druggy,” Hanson said. “I can’t give you a reason for that. It isn’t about one high school coming in or another, it’s just about the class.”
Hanson also attributes the trend for increased marijuana usage to mixed messages from the government and media.
“If you’re a student from a state that has a very liberal attitude on marijuana, you might just bring a little bit to campus thinking you’re fine, but Iowa law says no,” Hanson said.
Sixteen states and Washington, D.C., allow the use of medical marijuana. Similarly, continued dialogue in state and federal legislatures regarding legalizing marijuana has led many people to take relaxed views on usage. Seventy percent of Drake students come from out of state, and a small number are from states, such as Colorado, that have legalized the drug. However, according to the American College Personnel Association, college campuses are still required to follow the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act, which bans drugs on any campus, regardless of state laws.
Students caught with marijuana while on campus face even greater consequences than people caught off Drake property.
“You’re going to get a double whammy if you’re a Drake student,” Hanson said. “You’re going to get charged by the Des Moines Police Department and under state law, whatever that particular case was, and you’re going to get nailed by Sentwali.”
Bakari administers sanctions based on the magnitude of the case, but he said the severity is greater for marijuana than underage students with alcohol.
“The fines are a little higher and the sanctions are a little stronger,” Bakari said. “Students with alcohol might not be removed from the residence halls until their third or fourth offenses. With marijuana, we probably won’t be as flexible.”
Fo most small offenses, university sanctions include paying fines and writing reflection papers. Repeat or larger cases can lead to students being kicked out of residence halls or even expelled. Bakari said many students also go through the process of getting a lawyer to have the report expunged from their records, deal with court dates and fees and facing their parents.
Drake security calls the Des Moines police almost every time drug-related cases are called in. Hanson said it is easier for the police to seize the evidence than having it go through security.
Because possession of drug paraphernalia is a simple misdemeanor, police sanctions involve fines between $65 and $625 or up to 30 days in jail. Penalties increase with repeat offenses and can result in up to a $6,250 fine or two years jail time.
“It’s a learning experience for them, and we don’t see it again,” Bakari said. “Or they are much more clever and thoughtful of what they’re doing so they just don’t do it around here.”
Although the university and security take drug cases seriously, many students are indifferent on the issue.
Matt Moran, a news/internet and math major who graduated last spring, believes marijuana use should be up to the individual.
“I think if it doesn’t affect their work, students should be able to use it,” Moran said. “Police spend a lot of time and money on it when there are worse things going on in the world.”
Moran knows students at Drake use marijuana, but they try to keep it quiet.
“It’s a ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ thing,” Moran said.
Conversely, senior LPS major Katie Bell has never seen marijuana or drug use on Drake’s campus but, like Moran, does not believe the drug should be criminalized.
“I don’t think it should be illegal,” Bell said. “Obviously, college students do it all the time and I’ve never been affected by it.”