Preventing the Rise of Pothead U. (Participation)

Preventing the Rise of Pothead U.

January 2, 2013, 3:29 pm

By David J. Leonard

With the election season thankfully in our rear-view mirror, we can take stock of what the marijuana legalization initiatives (in both Washington and Colorado) mean. It should come as no surprise that college students have been rallying to end the prohibition of marijuana. I, for one, have often seen students pushing their decriminalization agenda on campus. What always struck me as I walked past these primarily white, middle-class crusaders is that marijuana is already effectively decriminalized on college campuses, as well as in suburbs and middle-class communities.

Decriminalization is a daily reality and has always been the applied law of the land in these environments. Sure, colleges and universities may claim to comply with federal drug laws, which, theoretically, should prevent the rise of Pothead U. Still, I can’t imagine the DEA swooping down anytime soon. A student conduct hearing and threat of drug education is not criminal enforcement.

Take a look at the numbers. Studies typically show that close to 50 percent of college students have used marijuana during the course of their young lives. According to a 2007 study, the number of students using marijuana daily more than doubled between 1993 and 2005. Furthermore, research has consistently shown that white students (and Latino students) use illegal drugs more frequently than African-American or Asian college students. Those trends also reflect drug-use patterns among young people not enrolled in college. It is not surprising that most of agitation for legalization of marijuana has been overwhelmingly white.

Of course, even the federal decriminalization of marijuana won’t eradicate all of the criminal misconduct among today’s college students. In recent years, drug use has also worsened with the proliferation of “performance-enhancing drugs” like Adderall. During the early part of the 21st century, sales increased by 3,100 percent; in recent surveys, anywhere from 5 percent to 35 percent of students admitted to popping these “study drugs.” Despite the fact that it violates federal drug laws, students regularly secure Adderall with little fear of punishment.

There is a consistent media narrative that downplays Adderall and other prescription-drug abuse. Imagining the abuse of these drugs as “steroids for school,” the media often depicts these crimes as an acceptable strategy in the face of pressure, as a reasonable choice in certain circumstances. In doing so, the media may have effectively decriminalized these sorts of drug abuses.

Can you imagine if “stop and frisk” was the policy of campus police departments across the United States? Can you imagine how much marijuana, cocaine, and Adderall might be seized if police began to stop those who met the profile of the pot-smoking, Adderall-popping scholastic menace?

If colleges become the epicenter for the war on drugs, schools might as well institute checkpoints at each dorm door. If residents of public housing need to face 24-7 surveillance, shouldn’t college students, given rates of drunkenness, drug abuse, narcotic distribution, altercations, vandalism, and sexual violence, deserve similar scrutiny? Can you imagine the revocation of dorm residency or even expulsion for the first drug crime, for the first fight, or first violation of the law?

That a college culture based on student profiling and systematic incarceration is less likely to take hold than a return to typewriters and blackboards is telling. Even though there are five white drug users for every one black user between the ages of 18 and 25, even though drug use is rampant on college campuses, the war on drugs immunizes white America. As the war on drugs continues to target communities of color, and as police and prosecutors focus attention and resources on drug use within communities of color, particularly their poorest, the pill-popping, marijuana-smoking, and hard-narcotic-using future leaders of the United States are left to their own vices.

Whereas black and brown youth fit the profile in the war on drugs, white students—often those who are the drug users—go unprofiled, allowed to keep getting high.  This is the living example of white privilege—which Jamilah Lemieux brilliantly describes as “a hell of a drug”—something which allows the abuse of drugs and the continuation of a destructive and unjust drug war.

Had the war on drugs focused on white middle-class youth, had “stop and frisk” rid university culture of drugs, the war on drugs would have been over a long time ago. Rather than fighting for decriminalization, which appears more self-serving than anything, maybe it’s time for college students to stand up against the war on drugs. Now that is change I can believe in.

David J. Leonard is an associate professor and chair of the department of critical culture, gender, and race studies at Washington State University.


6 thoughts on “Preventing the Rise of Pothead U. (Participation)

  1. This article reminded me of a conversation I had with my friend when I was back home for a weekend. I live in a suburb that is closely connected to a city on one side and a small town on the other. My friend and I were telling stories about the crazy things we see on campus and how much fun we were having away at school. My friend then started talking about how different it was being on a college campus because no where else is it acceptable to break the law at the magnitude of what happens on college campuses everywhere. We started talking about what would happen if we had seen those same things happen in our hometown and how they would be arrested on the spot, yet on a college campus underage drinking, using drugs, selling drugs, and violence of all sorts is a common occurrence. It is ironic that the one place nationally that seems to be “exempt” from the laws against these behaviors also probably has the highest prevalence of these behaviors. The ‘war on drugs’ in my opinion is a large waste of money and time from the government. If they wanted to revamp the system and create something that actually handled the problem I could stand behind it but right now it is a lot of federal money going into a system that targets the wrong groups of people. Like we learned in lecture through the videos it appears that the war on drugs is more destructive to America than drug use itself.

  2. College campuses are a hotspot for illegal drug activity. Drugs become nonchalant due to the large amount of students doing them which allows the ones that surround them to become more accustom to them. College is known for underage drinking, marijuana use and students using adderall to study that is not prescribed to them. Referring to a previous online writing I participated in, 9 out of 10 African Americans stopped by police under “stop and frisk” were innocent against all charges. Yet I couldn’t imagine if college students were stopped walking to the library how many would have illegal substances on them. Adderall is the drug, in opinion, that is most disregarded by officials. It does not even cross student’s mind when they take one to ace a test that they are breaking the law and could get penalized for it. Students in college areas break the rules all the time with little fear of facing consequences. Now considering all different parts of this issue it once again reinforces what we discuss in class. Privileged whites can smoke marijuana daily without fear while communities of color are getting stopped on the street for merely looking suspicious without breaking any laws. We need to focus on target areas of where drug use is most frequently used opposed to targeting races. Because right now they will never fix the problem because they are focusing in the wrong area.

  3. This article tells the truth of almost every college, if not every college campus nation wide. Drugs have been a prominent part of college campus for years now and it seems that the abuse has begun to rise. This can be seen first hand on our campus at Washington State University. Just as the article discussed many kids on our campus use Adderall each week just to be able to get their assignments done. No one every questions the legality of using Adderall but just find a way of getting the amount they need in order to enhance their learning abilities. And, the large majority of these students are middle-class white students who don’t even have to think twice that what they are doing is illegal. This attitude also applies to students using marijuana and hard drugs. There is no sense of worry that there will ever be any repercussions from buying and using these drugs. It’s almost become a part of middle-class white students culture to abuse these drugs. This article really made me realize how prominent these drugs are within all college communities. After reading the numbers that show that more white Americans are abusing the drug laws makes me fall back to lecture when we learned that white people have always used other races as a way of running away from problems, like when we arrested Asians for smoking opium when it was white middle class Americas using it the most. I think there needs to a change in our outlook on the war on drugs and find a way to stop drugs from being a prominent part of many college campuses in the U.S.

  4. This post really made me realize something I already knew but did not realize; college is a safe zone. Sometimes it is almost as if Pullman is a magical land or like the movie “The Purge”, where everything is legal. Of course not everything is actually legal but the reality of the illegal things that are going on campus that are simply unmonitorable because of the sheer number of times these illegal activities occur even daily at any college.
    Sometimes I take Adderall. I do it for big test, projects and it helps me focus. I do not have a prescription but I have suspected I have attention deficit disorder in the past. I do not take it often but it definitely helps me with my school work. To me the “drug” is seemingly harmless besides the fact that I probably will not get any seep on nights that I take it. But the fact that purchasing or carrying a pill is a federal crime and even possibly a felony? That is crazy to me for one reason. All of my friends take it, 100% do but 0% of these users have never once gotten caught. I honestly have never heard of anyone getting in trouble for possession of Adderall.
    So why not break the law? If there are no consequences or ways to get caught why not do better in school? That is what every college student thinks and most kids with prescriptions can make good money by selling these pills that are covered by insurance.
    The only drawback that I have with Adderall is the unknown long term effects of the drug. Because it Is generally new and so powerful I do not believe we know the true effects or repercussions of the drug and that means we should have a law but a law with far less punishment to the person in possession of Adderall without a prescription.

  5. It’s as if colleges are a safe zone for anything illegal. People know what goes on, on campus it’s the fact that they don’t care. I mean if half of what I’ve seen or done here at WSU happened in my hometown you’d be thrown in jail no question about it. They wouldn’t be like “oh it’s Coeur d’ Alene what do you expect?” like so many people do here oh it’s WSU it’s just what happens. The ease of dealing and buying and doing drugs on campus is amazing really. Also I never really think about Adderall as being an illegal drug. I mean even if you don’t have a prescription doctors prescribe it to other so what’s the difference if you just take one of theirs? No big deal right? That’s how I’ve always thought.

  6. Being a student living on campus it is very eye opening to see how much illegal activity actually goes on. Growing up in Cheney with Eastern Washington University practically in my backyard, I was very naïve to what was actually going on. It was a college campus yet it seemed so insane for such actions to be taking place. It was stuff I thought only happened in movies. I was scared to go to house parties fearing the consequences of what might happen if I got caught. Now that I am a student, I see a whole different side to the abuse of illegal drugs on campus. The continuous drug cycle escalates on the daily from using to abusing to selling. I feel that college is strongly stereotyped with such extreme expectations, that people believe if they don’t reach this potential, they are missing out. The number of times students replace coffee and energy drinks for drugs like Adderall is unbelievable. The amount of use and trade during dead and finals week increases immensely. It is in a way disappointing to think that our generations are misusing drugs that are treatments for actual issues but as a whole, we have to understand that it happens. A video that we watched during class where we got the chance to see so many convicts explain what charges they are being put up against for such meaningless crimes in insane. It happens every single day here in Pullman where people barely get a slap on the wrist. These crimes are so dramatic in the sense that we are paying so much money to contribute to a cause we may not support. We have learned so much about profiling and it wasn’t surprising to read in the article about whites, even abusing more, are going to be less likely to be the ones caught. There is so much work to be done, that most likely won’t and I think it is just one of those things we will always have to live with.

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