words by Bryan Dorn
photos by Destiny Alvarez
Cannabis rules at the University of Oregon are outlined in the code of conduct as a zero tolerance policy; however, with the growing popularization of recreational cannabis and the recent requirement for first year students to live on campus, keeping cannabis off campus can prove to be difficult.
During the Fall of 2017 over 150 cannabis related incident reports were issued in resident halls and on campus, according to Assistant Director of Resident Life Shelby Wieners. This begs the question, what happens when students get caught with cannabis on campus?
This academic year, the residence halls have updated their policies to be less punitive and more centralized around education following cannabis related incident reports, Wieners says.
“Looking at how cannabis is handled on campus was very different than how we handled alcohol— when in the state of Oregon the laws are pretty similar,” says Wieners. “But the way that we approached it just wasn’t similar and I felt that was inequitable to students.”
Resident advisors are now requiring students, who are found with a ‘personal amount’ of cannabis, to flush the product and hand over their paraphernalia without getting the University of Oregon Police Department involved. In previous years, UOPD would be called to initiate contact with residents and confiscate the cannabis and paraphernalia themselves.
Now, the paraphernalia is put in a lock box for UOPD to confiscate at a later time.
“Our conduct process is educationally designed and is not the criminal process,” Wieners says. “So having RAs facilitate this and not having UOPD go to every single cannabis call realigns our response to how we say we educate students.”
Depending on the severity, context and frequency of the incidents, students who are found responsible for policy violations, like possession of cannabis in the dormitories, can expect a range of sanctions from community involvement to expulsion, according to Wieners.
Between fall 2017 and fall 2018 there was a 23% reduction in cannabis related incident report submissions through University Housing. According to Wieners, this could be due to students receiving more in depth information on community expectations and curriculum or shifting attitudes between graduating classes.
While the new policy on campus may seem straightforward, there are some grey areas. The amount of cannabis that is deemed personal possession is based on a “flushable amount,” according to Wieners. If RAs find what they deem an excessive amount they call professional staff with University Housing and take the incident from there.
The policy also does not include non-THC cannabinoids such as CBD. Medical students are still forbidden from having their medicine on campus due to federal regulations, Wieners says.
Students who need access to medical cannabis and are required to live on campus are encouraged to contact the Accessible Education Center and the University Counseling Center to find a solution with the University.
“Students aren’t a mass of beings right? Everyone is an individual and so looking at each individual case is really important,” Wieners says. “We would rather process a situation and talk about it than make a decision in a vacuum. Because every case is different.”
This shift in policy has inevitably lead to more University Housing involvement with cannabis incidents on campus and less UOPD involvement.
Most cases of cannabis on campus are now being logged as conduct violations rather than criminal violations. According to Kelly McIver, Public Information Officer for UOPD, the police department does not want students to incur hefty fines or deal with long term legal trouble due to small issues that can be addressed with education.
Because the university is federally funded, cannabis use and possession is strictly forbidden on all university affiliated properties, according to McIver. However, officers are not going out of their way to sniff out stoners.
“I think it’s better for everybody because it allows police to focus on not only addressing more serious crimes that may be occurring, but also spend more time out on patrol where their visibility and presence can be a deterrent to more serious crime,” McIver says.
In the future, students who are found with a personal amount of cannabis on campus can rest easy knowing the university is not looking to take legal action or derail their education. If students who are breaking the rules on campus comply with the Residence Halls, then the new rules on campus can foster a safer and more educational learning environment.