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Smoke and Haze: Discussing marijuana use at Carleton

<e has been much attention given to underage drinking on campus, addressing marijuana use at Carleton is something that still does not frequently happen. Data from the Needs Assessment Workbook, provided by Patrick Gordon, the Coordinator of Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, shows that at the time students took the survey in 2016, 25.1% of students ages 18-25 reported using marijuana in the past 30 days.

Gordon is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the grant, which was awarded to the college in spring 2015. The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) funds the five-year grant, the Strategic Prevention Framework Partnerships for Success, which uses data collection and the implementation of strategies based on that data, to cut down on drug use and underage drinking.  The grant was implemented in Fall term of 2015.

In the Office of Health Promotions, Gordon uses data collected to stay in touch with campus attitudes towards and usage of alcohol and other drugs.

“We try and stay in tune with how many of our students are using marijuana on campus, are using alcohol, are using other drugs, what are our rates of mental health and other things like that,” said Gordon. “We need more data in order to understand that too.” 

The Carleton Coalition on Alcohol and Marijuana (CCAM) helps provide support to and input on the implementation of the grant’s programs. CCAM decided to focus its goals on education initiatives rather than policy or enforcement. 

“We thought all these other things were a greater priority and there’s more buy-in to work on and help make our campus healthier,” said Gordon.
Emma Nicosia ’17, a Student Wellness Advocate (SWA), reflected on the Office of Health Promotion’s tendency to focus on education about alcohol more than other drugs.

“Most of our work [as SWAs] is in reducing alcohol use on campus because most of the data that we have been collecting for the past year and a half now are indicating that is the major concern,” said Nicosia. “There is a lot of high-risk drinking, and marijuana and other drug uses are way, way, way lower and more comparable to the national average than our high-risk drinking.”

Reflecting on the possibility of doing something like SWA stall information, where SWAs put fast fact sheets in bathroom stalls around campus, about other drugs, Nicosia said, “I think it wouldn’t necessarily hurt, but I do wonder if having information like that up in the SWA stalls would make people think that there is more of a problem than there actually is.”

Nicosia pointed out that two factors influence the decision for SWAs not to focus on marijuana in their programming. “One is the fact that marijuana is never legal in Minnesota, for now at least,” said Nicosia.

“Another thing,” explained Nicosia, “is that marijuana usage, I think in general, but specifically our data shows on campus, it doesn’t have the same really negative consequences as alcohol does,” like blacking out or being transported to the hospital.

Even with those considerations about marijuana education, steps were taken this past fall to educate incoming students about the drug. The Office of Health Promotions implemented the use of the educational programs Marijuana-wise, which the class of 2020 took before coming to campus.

“When we were doing the variables [to assess possible actions to follow through on with the grant], there was a handful around marijuana. We said we don’t feel like we have an intellectual campus dialogue around marijuana use, and we need to,” said Gordon. “Marijuana-wise was used as the first strategy implemented for the grant,” said Gordon, “I feel like it’s our very first strategy to do marijuana education on our campus.” 

Wayne Eisenhuth, Director of Security and Emergency Management, is also member of CCAM. Security plays an enforcement role in addressing marijuana use on campus.

“We get called when there is a complaint of drug use in the residence halls, we patrol the campus, we observe a lot of, not a lot but, incidents of drug use outside,” said Eisenhuth.
Eisenhuth remarked that not much has changed in Security’s response to marijuana use on campus since the grant. “That grant focuses more on alcohol and marijuana is a component, but it focuses on why [students] do it, what is causing them to do it, what are the factors involved, peer pressure, academic pressure,” explained Eisenhuth. “So it really doesn’t affect how we as a security department respond to it or what we do, how we enforce it.”

“What we usually run into is in the personal use, small amounts of marijuana people are smoking in their room or Bell Field or whatever,” said Eisenhuth. In the event that there is evidence of distribution of the drug, Security then involves the Northfield police.

The numbers of marijuana incidents Security reports being involved in have not changed significantly over the last three years, with 21 incidents in 2014-2015, 24 reported in 2015-2016, and 19 reported so far in the current academic year.

“And in the past we have had some students that were distributing, you know, I think that we draw a line there,” said Eisenhuth. “Whereas we don’t call the police every time we just catch someone smoking in their room or something like that. It’s just handled internally.”

Two students, Student A and Student B, spoke about their experience being found smoking marijuana on campus. Caught using marijuana outdoors by a security guard, the students are now on residential probation.

“[A security guard] asked for us to hand over the marijuana, and he asked if there was anything else that we needed to show him,” said Student A.

“He was like, ‘You know we can get the police to search if you say no,’” added Student B.  “Basically, they threatened to bring in the police because they didn’t believe me.” Student B admitted to having more marijuana back in their dorm and handed over the rest of the substance in their possession.

The students felt that the security guards were fairly informative about what the next steps in the disciplinary process might be.

“They told us who was going to know about the situation and kind of like vaguely what the next steps were,” said Student A. “And they were pretty nice about it. I asked them a lot of questions.”

“I mean they were nice, but it was just annoying,” said Student B. “I feel like they do care too much, especially in relation to how little they care about alcohol… I think it’s dumb that you can drink to the point of getting transported but if you smoke a little bit, you’re just like..,” said Student B, trailing off, who felt that the consequences for using marijuana on campus were more severe than for students who were caught drinking.

The students also spoke about the differing side effects of the substances that Nicosia mentioned. Student A explained that the time they had gotten caught, “we weren’t really trying to, like, drink.”

Student A explained that “it was more of an alternative to drinking, I guess, where we wouldn’t have a hangover the next morning, and we would like feel fine and just chill out with our friends rather than, you know, get wild.”

Student A reflected on the conversation with their area director about their marijuana use. “He started listing off a bunch of reasons, like are you stressed about school, is there something going on in your personal life, all of these reasons, and I was like, ‘No.’ And he was like, ‘Was it just to have fun with your friends?’ and I was like ‘Yeah, I guess.’”

The data from the Needs Assessment Workbook supports the sentiment that marijuana use on campus is sought out “because it’s fun,” with 58.4% of students ages 18 to 25 reporting that as a reason that they used marijuana in the past month. Students also identified “to relax or relieve stress” (38.2%) and “to feel buzzed or high” (36.6%) as other main reasons for using marijuana.

The students reflected on the relaxed and small culture for marijuana use at Carleton.

“I think if you want to smoke, you can definitely find people to do it with,” said Student A. “I haven’t seen people be directly pressured into smoking. In my experience, people have been pretty chill… It’s definitely prevalent, I don’t feel like it’s overwhelming here.”

Student B experienced an even more closed community for marijuana use. “I don’t think it’s big here at all. I don’t see it that often. If you seek it out, you can find it, but even then, it’s not that easy… It was smaller than I was expecting it to be, honestly, just coming to campus freshman year. I think, like, compared to drinking culture, [drinking culture is] like 20 times more prevalent than weed. It’s not even comparable.”

In considering how the Office of Health Promotions should address marijuana education, Gordon considers several factors. 

“We also navigate the line of, it’s not allowed on campus,” said Gordon, “so we don’t really take a harm-reduction approach to it necessarily. But…I would imagine in some states where people are using, freely and legally, that the state and education might be taking a harm-reduction approach to it.”

For now, the focus of the conversation on marijuana in the campus community is on education.

“Right now, [the goals of the Office of Health Promotions in regard to marijuana are] how to understand it more as a campus community, and how to help people know what is marijuana, what impact it does have statistically, what the research actually says, and what are the health risks that could be associated with it,” said Gordon. “Students have always been receptive to harm reduction approaches, especially with alcohol, but alcohol and marijuana are two very different substances and are two very different uses socially and how we use them on campus.”

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