On April 1, 2016, marijuana advocates roared past Georgetown University’s front gates in a black Jeep, with lobbyist Louis Drexel Porteous of D.C. Norml, a pro-marijuana legalization policy group, in tow behind in a cage and sign reading: “Jail is not a drug policy.”
Drexel Porteous explained the demonstration was meant to spread the belief to college campuses that marijuana should be legalized and decriminalized in a 2016 interview with The Hoya.
The stunt came just one day before protesters gathered in front of the White House to demand the federal legalization of marijuana, which has been legal in Washington, D.C., since February 2015. Led by Adam Eidinger of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, the demonstration also included a smoking session on federal property at 4:20 p.m.
A calmer story takes place inside the front gates, however. Abiding by federal laws, students can possess alcohol on campus if they are 21 years old or older, but the Code of Student Conduct strictly forbids the illegal possession, use or sale of drugs or controlled substances. Despite university pushback, the drug discussion surfaces on social media, in memes and in everyday student conversations. With contradicting District policies and campus regulations, it can be difficult to define the culture of drug use on campus — or determine whether there even is one.
More Than a Cannabis Culture
In 1988, the beloved Healy Pub, a campus spot for students to relax and enjoy drinks after class, closed its doors in Healy Hall, marking one of several transitions to a more alcohol-aware campus. Just two years earlier, the federal drinking age had been raised to 21 years old, influencing the administration to firm up its alcohol policies.
2011 saw a push from Georgetown’s students and alumni to revive Healy Pub, but President John J. DeGioia and Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Olson shot the idea down, citing drinking-age restrictions and more efficient student services as factors.
“We have not demonstrated in this changed environment that we can manage a pub on campus and the way in which the Healy Pub characterized this campus from 1974 to 1988,” DiGioia said in an August 2011 interview with The Hoya.
In 2007, the university made its alcohol policy more stringent by decreasing the number of kegs allowed in residences and restricting the number of guests allowed at parties, reflecting national trends that binge drinking and alcohol-related deaths among college students were on the rise.
One month later, in September 2007, 125 students gathered in Healy Circle to protest the new restrictions, chanting “No more lying! Our social scene is dying.” Among the students’ demands were amnesty for all petty alcohol violations and age-blind party registration.
Then, in 2008, when college administrators from across the country drafted a petition to discuss the lowering of the drinking age from 21, Georgetown opted out.
“Georgetown is not signing the petition. We are focused on the health, safety and well-being of our students, and we will continue to work at providing a welcoming and safe social environment on campus that respects the law and our students,” then-Director of Media Relations Andy Pino said in an interview with The Hoya.
Although alcohol is one of the most prevalent drugs on campus — just look to the cardboard Natural Light beer cartons that adorn the walls of residence halls — Georgetown is no stranger to hard drug-related incidents.
In 2010, Georgetown made national headlines when police busted students manufacturing the hallucinogenic dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, on the ninth floor of Harbin Hall. DMT is categorized as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no legal medical use in the United States. Harbin was evacuated at 6 a.m. after the lab’s discovery, and no injuries were reported.
Although the students, one Georgetown and one University of Richmond, could have faced 20 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s federal trafficking policies, the students only faced three years of probation and 200 hours of community service.
Over the years, affiliates of the university have also been involved in drug-related incidents. In 2014, Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden’s son and adjunct professor in the Master of Science in Foreign Service program, was discharged from the U.S. Navy Reserve after testing positive for cocaine. Then, in 2017, former law professor Jack Vitayanon was charged with conspiring to distribute illegal drugs.
Coinciding with these incidents, “The Big Book of Colleges,” a research-based book that grades colleges on different criteria, gave Georgetown a C- in the “drug scene” category.
“A high grade in the Drug Scene indicates that drugs and alcohol are not a noticeable part of campus life; drug use is not visible, and no pressure to use drugs or drink alcohol seems to exist,” the book states.
In terms of drug culture, Georgetown is on par with other universities. According to the Addiction Center, a web guide for those struggling with addiction, student drug use has four possible causes: stress, course load, curiosity or peer pressure. Georgetown students are no strangers to intense course loads and stress, and the school’s competitive culture might contribute to drug use on campus.
Combatting Campus Drug Use
In 1966, Georgetown became the first Catholic university to allow male students to keep alcohol in their rooms, but in the 52 years since that milestone, the administration has changed its tune. As alcohol and drug use continues to permeate residence halls, the university keeps rolling out strict policies to combat the campus drug culture.
While students over the age of 21 and residents in nonfreshman dorms can possess alcohol on campus, the protocol is less lenient when it comes the possession and use of hard drugs.
Drug-related incidents are dealt with by student affairs on a case-by-case basis, with the policy stating that violators will be subject to disciplinary action by the university. This disciplinary action can include probation, suspension or “any action the University deems appropriate.”
“Like all Code violations, the sanctions depend on whether the student has any prior violations and whether there are any aggravating or mitigating factors. For a first-time, e.g. ‘Drug Policy – Use’ violation concerning marijuana, the sanctions would typically be a $100 fine, 5 work sanction hours, Disciplinary Probation 1 for two semesters, and an educational project,” Joseph DiPietro (COL ’18), director of Georgetown University Student Assocaition’s Student Advocacy Office, wrote in an email to The Hoya.
In some ways, the policy’s vague language policy protects students by determining punishment depending on former offenses or the quantity and severity of drugs in the student’s possession. However, it also hurts students who may not know what to expect if they are caught with or around illicit drugs.
“I think most students are aware that while marijuana has been legalized in the District, it remains a violation to possess, sell, or use it while a student at Georgetown,” DiPietro said. “It is also quite common to speak with students who are not aware that while marijuana has been legalized by the District, its possession and use remains a crime under federal law.”
Alcohol abuse consumes the bulk of Georgetown’s Policies on Alcohol and Other Drugs. There is more information on alcohol restrictions and punishments than information about all other drugs combined, and alcohol has its own section while the other drugs are grouped together.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy, an international nonprofit focused on reforming drug policies and advocating for drug education, assigns letter grades to universities’ drug policies. Its goal is to reform drug policies in universities by mobilizing students to participate in political processes and advocacy involving drug use on campuses, according to their website.
By the SSDP’s standards, Georgetown’s Alcohol and Drug Policy received a “B” rating: “[Georgetown’s] alcohol policy takes into account prior violations and balances education/treatment with punishment; drug policy sanctions are not detailed. No mention of a medical amnesty policy,” according to the SSDP website.
SSDP also cites the university’s combination of punishments for marijuana-related incidents, which are legal in the District, with punishments for other illegal drug use. There is no distinction between the punishment for the use of different types of drugs in the policy. This lack of distinction aligns with The George Washington University’s policy, which prohibits the possession or manufacturing of illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia, and American University’s policy, which specifically bans possession or use of illegal drugs in campus residence halls.
Although the university has strict standards, students who seek medical assistance for other students through the use of Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service, a volunteer student-run emergency ambulance service, or the Georgetown University Police Department, as well as the patients, are not subject to violations of the drug or alcohol policies. However, these students will still be required to attend a nondisciplinary meeting with their community director following the medical emergency.
Compared to other D.C. schools, Georgetown receives an average rating. The George Washington University received a “C” grade for its policy’s ambiguity. This score is also a result of GWU’s policy focused on punishment, rather than reform. On the other end of the spectrum, AU’s policy received an “A” because it deals with offenses on a case-by-case basis and provides full medical amnesty for both the accused and the accuser.
Unlike Georgetown’s Code of Student Conduct, the Sanctioning Guide, which contains recommended sanctions for given violations, used to distinguish between marijuana and other illicit drugs. Just last fall, however, the Sanction Guide was updated, and the distinction was removed.
Despite the lack of distinction, DiPietro assures that possession and use of illicit drugs are more serious offenses than possession and use of marijuana.
“While it’s no longer officially treated as a less serious than other drugs, a drug policy violation involving drugs other than marijuana would likely be considered a significant aggravating factor,” DiPietro said.
The District’s Drug Problem
Georgetown’s drug climate represents a small portion of a growing population of people in D.C. who consume alcohol or hard drugs. The District has more drug and alcohol abusers per capita than the national average, according to Drug Strategies, a nonprofit research institute that promotes more effective drug abuse prevention, education and treatment. Today, one in three D.C. residents knows someone who regularly uses illicit drugs.
Drug Strategies cites D.C.’s emphasis on criminal justice rather than drug treatment and prevention as a cause for the city’s high abuse rates. While $1,257 is spent per capita on criminal justice, only $42.45 per capita is spent on treatment. According Drug Strategies’ research, substance abuse is directly correlated to poverty rates, with one in six people in D.C. living in poverty. Drug users in D.C. typically also suffer from social afflictions such as poverty, homelessness, unemployment or mental health disorders.
Additionally, heavy drinking is 50 percent more prevalent among District adults than the national average. According to CASAColumbia, the national center on addiction and substance abuse, excessive drinking and other drug abuse has risen sharply since 1993. The center conducted a study on college campuses to discover more about university drug culture in the United States and found that instances of drug use is rapidly rising among college students.
The study revealed half of full-time college students — 3.8 million people — binge drink, abuse prescription drugs or abuse illegal drugs. Almost a quarter of full-time college students — 1.8 million people — meet the medical criteria for substance abuse or dependence. Among the general population, only 8.5 percent of people abuse or are dependent on substances.
Since the early 1990s, the proportion of students using marijuana daily has more than doubled. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, daily marijuana use is at its highest among college students since the early 1980s, with 4.9 percent of full-time college and 12.8 percent of college aged students smoking daily. College-aged peers binge drink, or consume five or more drinks in a row, less than their college counterparts: 32.4 percent of full-time students binge drink regularly compared to 28.7 percent of their noncollege peers.
The colleges topping the list of alcohol and illicit drug-related incidents are call D.C. home. A 2013 “Drugs on Campus” report revealed that among colleges with less than 5,000 students, Catholic University of America and Loyola University of Maryland ranked in the top 10 when it came to alcohol-related disciplinary action. The director of University of Maryland’s health center reported seeing an increase in students trying to recover from substance abuse while at college, according to a 2017 NBC News article.
The growth of alcohol and illicit drug use reflects a greater trend in the District. Despite the university’s attempt to squash the glorification of drinking and drug use present on campus in the 1970s-1980s, alcohol and hard drugs permeate the party scene, campus conversations and even Georgetown’s student-run meme page.
Any GU student can seek free, confidential help from Health Education Services about their use of alcohol or other drugs. Patrick Kilcarr, the director of the Center for Personal Development, helps educate and counsel students regarding choices surrounding alcohol and drug use. He can be reached at (202)-687-8944 or [email protected]
Corrections: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Joseph DiPietro’s name on second reference. Additionally, it incorrectly stated that the university does not have a medical amnesty policy for students who need or call for medical assistance. Student who call GERMS or GUPD will be granted amnesty.