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Marijuana Legalization Debate Continues at Purchase

by Aidan McHugh

According to UPD chief Dayton Tucker, marijuana accounts for the majority of UPD's drug-related calls. (Photo by Brian Ponte)

Polarizing topics are everywhere in the political world, but one that hits close to home for Purchase is marijuana legalization. Marijuana remains the most commonly used drug on campus, according to University Police Chief Dayton Tucker.

“The majority of our drug calls are marijuana, period, point blank,” said Tucker.

Statistics from the annual campus crime report show drug use violations on campus increased from 54 in 2016 to 111 in 2017. While marijuana use becomes increasingly commonplace, state and federal politicians argue over whether criminalization or legalization is the right decision.

Currently, 11 states have fully legalized recreational marijuana, and another 15, including New York, have decriminalized it, reducing penalties for its use. But the debate over full legalization continues. Some argue marijuana is a dangerous gateway drug that leads to even more destructive addictions, others say that criminalization is pointless and counterproductive.

James Accordino, the project coordinator of the Purchase Chapter of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), took the second stance. NYPIRG officially supports full legalization for all adults over 18, although Accordino noted that legalization is not one of NYPIRG’s primary campaigns.

Instead, Accordino argues that legalization would help cut off demand for the black market, and would result in Food and Drug Administration regulation on marijuana products, ensuring they would be safe to use.

“Prohibition is a terrible policy. It does not protect anyone from anything, and it causes the black market to thrive,” said Accordino.

He noted that it was unlikely marijuana would be allowed on campus even if legalized, since college administrations are given tight control over what substances can be brought on campus.

“Even legalization doesn’t preclude a campus from banning that,” said Accordino, pointing to the existence of dry campuses which ban alcohol.

A similar viewpoint came from Lauren Johnson, college prevention coordinator at the Wellness Center, whose role is to "help to reduce the negative outcomes of alcohol tobacco and other drugs on our college campus.”

According to Johnson, statistics from the Wellness Center show that marijuana use has steadily decreased since 2012. As for legalization, Johnson was quick to point out that since Purchase is a federally funded institution, state legalization would not be enough to allow marijuana on campus-it would require federal legalization. Moreover, she noted that legalizing recreational marijuana at the state level is a very complicated issue, with many nuances to consider like taxation, advertising limits, and concentration caps on products.

Johnson was keen to draw a distinction between decriminalization and legalization, the former being a reduction of penalties for drug use, the latter making marijuana use legal. She felt that the two were often conflated in the debate over marijuana. Johnson stated that decriminalization is something she supports, on the grounds that criminalization prevents students with addictions from seeking help for fear of legal consequences.

As for the argument that marijuana acts as a gateway drug, she agreed, but said marijuana is hardly unique in that regard.

“Addiction doesn’t really matter about the substance, it matters about the individual,” Johnson said.

A 15 year veteran of the force, UPD Chief Dayton Tucker was more skeptical of decriminalization, noting that drug calls make up the majority of the workload for the campus police, and that statistics for marijuana use have stayed roughly the same. Tucker attributes the difference in drug use statistics from the Wellness Center and UPD to the fact that the Wellness Center only deals with students while UPD cases can involve guests or friends of students.

Tucker does believe Marijuana acts as a gateway drug, having read multiple studies on the topic from scholarly journals. As for the argument that criminalization prevents addicts from coming forward, he feels that there isn’t a strong stigma against marijuana users compared to addicts of drugs like cocaine, and that in his experience marijuana users don’t seem to have trouble seeking help. His main concern with decriminalization is that it would potentially allow toxic mixes or high concentrations to end up in marijuana products without proper oversight.

“My concern is that people won’t know what they’re taking. People won’t know the amounts that they’re taking,” said Tucker. “People won’t understand how what they’re taking will affect them.”

Nonetheless, he acknowledged that both criminalization and decriminalization would have positive and negative consequences, and that the issue is hardly clear cut.

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