The rules set forth by George Mason University’s Board of Visitors and the Office of Student Conduct not only hinder student learning and engagement but also discourage it. Under the current university policy, if you are caught on first offense with any possession of marijuana, you are likely to be suspended “from the University for a minimum of one academic semester.” This isn’t the case for the possession of or drinking alcohol, which is illegal for those under 21 and something a lot of college students do frequently on this campus. Who’s to say what is worse for you: marijuana or alcohol? All I know is that they’re both “bad,” and alcohol is illegal for a majority of Mason’s undergraduate population.

The university’s policies are also far more strict than those of the Commonwealth of Virginia and of comparable sister institutions like James Madison University. JMU, for example, has a three-strike policy related to marijuana. Why should someone get kicked off campus and out of their classes for an entire semester because of a little bit of pot? How does that policy “foster student engagement” and learning? It obviously doesn’t. I’m not trying to say there shouldn’t be any consequences for possession of marijuana. I’m not even saying the Office of Housing & Residence Life shouldn’t have the right to kick you out of your dorm because you are in possession of or smoking pot on campus. What I’m saying is that you shouldn’t get kicked out of your classes because of it, which they do now even if you’re in your last semester of school. Again, how does that encourage learning?

If one had to choose between alcohol and marijuana, statistically speaking, marijuana is the much safer option. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 2,000 college students between the ages of 18 and 22 die each year from what they call “unintentional fatal incidents” directly related to the consumption of alcohol. How many deaths were reported directly attributed to marijuana use? None. I’m not trying to encourage the use of marijuana, but when the penalties are stricter for something that is a much safer option compared to alcohol, something needs to be seriously re-evaluated here.

I spoke recently with Jane Garfinkel, the organizer and founder of the unrecognized GMU Students For A Better Drug Policy. “Suspension for a semester serves only to give the student a long expanse of time to partake in drugs and decreases the chance of them graduating,” she said. Garfinkel’s organization is “aiming for a three-strike policy of marijuana and alcohol combined. Mainly, the group hopes to end suspension as a punishment for first-time offenders.”

The group was also recently the driving force behind Student Government’s resolution calling for the university to stop suspending students for marijuana possession. The resolution was submitted by Senators Sarah Harvard, Anthony Travieso, Cameron Burnette and Mike DeRobbio. The resolution was brought to the Student Senate floor during their most recent meeting on March 22, but it was sent to committee to be reviewed and amended and will come up to a vote at the senate meeting this Thursday. Many gallery members spoke in support of the resolution, which seemed to be well received from the senators.

Student Senator Harvard brought the resolution forward because, as she said, “Those who are possessing marijuana just get kicked out, while those who drink underage have a chance to redeem themselves, even if [those students who are kicked out for marijuana] are students who contribute greatly to the university community.” One of the other co-sponsors of the resolution, Senator Cameron Burnette said, “The mission statement of the Student Conduct Office says they will better educate students and make them better members of the university and community, but they do the opposite of that by holding the students guilty before proven innocent.”

Burnette feels, that instead of kicking students out of their classes, they should be given a chance to redeem themselves by being involved in an education class on marijuana, just like what is done for alcohol.

Student Government President Allyson Bowers told us that she “supports the resolution and hopes that the administration takes it into consideration and recognizes that the current standards serve as a major injustice.”


Storm A. Paglia contributed to this piece