With pushes to scale back on penalties for marijuana use gaining ground nationwide, the student body has warmed up to use of the drug over time – even if the number of students inhaling has not risen considerably.
According to a 2009 Gallup poll, 44 percent of Americans favored legalizing marijuana – up from just 12 percent in 1970.
At Georgetown, a number of students seem to be taking a more liberal view on the subject, according to health experts.
Patrick Kilcarr, director of Health Education Services’ Center for Personal Development, has worked at Georgetown for 20 years. He said on-campus attitudes have shifted as of late.
“People would really, in the early years, in the ’70s and ’80s, have a strong opinion one way or another about marijuana,” he said. “And [now] I think even if people don’t smoke marijuana and have no desire to, their opinion of marijuana has very much softened.”
But while attitudes about marijuana have shifted, students at Georgetown do not appear to be using marijuana more than before.
James Welsh, assistant vice president for student health, said that the rate of marijuana use on campus has not changed significantly in the past 10 years.
“The perception of marijuana use far exceeds the actual use,” he added.
The Office of Student Affairs declined to release statistics from student health surveys about marijuana use that it gathered over the past decade, as it keeps the numbers confidential for internal planning purposes.
But Kilcarr, who used data from the student health surveys, said that they show that the rate of marijuana use is fairly close to the national average.
“It doesn’t say to what degree, so it could be a student who smoked once a week or a student who smokes four times a day but about 13 percent of our students at any point in time would say that they had smoked marijuana within the last 30 days,” he said.
According to its official crime log, the Department of Public Safety dealt with 16 drug crimes in September and October. Eight involved “suspicious smells” and seven involved an unidentified drug. In the last, the drug was explicitly identified as marijuana.
And for many users, the availability of marijuana on the Hilltop has been subject to circumstance.
One Georgetown sophomore who uses marijuana occasionally said that many of the drug’s users and dealers on campus took a step backward after three freshmen were arrested in October on drug charges – two for attempting to produce Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a hallucinogen, in their Harbin dorm room and one for possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
“Everyone got very hesitant to sell to anybody new, or just use it in general,” he said. “When you have [Drug Enforcement Agency] agents walking around on campus, that’s usually kind of intimidating.”
But, he added, the drug’s presence on campus is already on its way back to normal availability. “I’ve already seen it easing up,” he said.
In Kilcarr’s capacity as director of the Center for Personal Development, he meets with many student drug users involved in disciplinary proceedings. Kilcarr added that while the number of students he sees about marijuana has increased slightly in the past few years, the numbers of students with more serious problems has not.
“The problems that students are coming in with, they haven’t increased,” Kilcarr said. “There isn’t an increase in problems, or an increase in students that really have this psychological need to continue to use.”
Kilcarr said he worries most about the students who use marijuana every day, or who use it as a crutch to deal with everyday problems. According to him, however, the majority of the students he sees do not fit that description.
But occasionally he sees students who challenge his expectations.
“I’ve had a student sit on my couch who said, `You know what, I have a 4.0, I’m a junior at this college, I smoke every day, and how can you tell me it’s wrong to smoke?’,” he said.
The growing acceptance of marijuana in American culture is also reflected by D.C. law. The penalties for a first offense of marijuana possession in Washington are low – Kilcarr compared the penalty to that of a traffic ticket. In June, medical use of marijuana became legal under District law to treat some chronic illnesses.
The D.C. government is still finalizing the regulations for licensing marijuana dispensaries, but some businessmen are already scouting the scene. One, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid hurting his chances of a successful application for a dispensary permit, said he is considering setting a dispensary up in the neighborhood of Georgetown. He said, however, that some in the area remain skeptical.
“The local community in Georgetown has been receptive but not overly so,” he said. “A lot of the landlords in Georgetown will simply not allow their property to be used for this purpose.”
But, he said, marijuana has always had a presence in the neighborhood.
“Having lived about 10 miles west of Georgetown since 1977 in the same house, I can remember visiting Georgetown as a kid to go to the bars and the head shops,” he said. “Cannabis has always been around Georgetown and always will be.”
The anonymous sophomore who smokes occasionally believes that in the long run, laws on marijuana will change to respond to the society’s growing openness toward the drug.
Referring to this year’s failed California ballot initiative to legalize marijuana, he said: “It didn’t pass, but the side that was in favor of it still had more votes than Meg Whitman, the runner-up for governor. The acceptance level is obvious.”