Georgetown University students are calling on the university to lessen sanctions for marijuana violations in an effort to reflect marijuana legalization in Washington, D.C., and changing attitudes nationwide.
Georgetown’s Student Advocacy Office, a student-run resource center that helps students navigate the university’s disciplinary system, shared its proposal via Instagram on April 20. The proposal, which had over 130 student signatures as of April 29, is advocating for a marijuana policy separate from those for other drugs and pushing for equal sanctions for both marijuana and alcohol violations.
The university’s policy should mirror the District’s legislation and consequences, according to Daniel Shlayen (SFS ’21), a member of SAO.
“D.C. is a very progressive area with progressive new laws on marijuana,” Shlayen said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “To me, it was kind of ridiculous that people were getting into so much more trouble for smoking weed than they were getting in for drinking alcohol when it was equally legal outside of Georgetown’s campus.”
Recreational marijuana use was legalized for adults 21 and older under D.C. law in 2015, but the university’s drug policy and sanctioning guidelines do not distinguish between marijuana and other drugs.
Under current university policy, student infractions involving marijuana are considered drug policy violations and are subject to more severe sanctioning guidelines than alcohol policy violations. Second and third alcohol violations result in apartment living suspensions and disciplinary probations, a warning status that allows students to return to the university if they adhere to certain conditions. However, a first violation for any drug use or possession carries the same consequences. Second and third drug violations result in disciplinary suspensions, which dismiss students from the university until they are placed back on disciplinary probation.
The SAO’s suggested reform would still prohibit marijuana use for all Georgetown students, but punishments for marijuana use would be less severe than punishments for other drugs such as narcotics, opiates or unauthorized prescriptions.
The proposal calls on Georgetown to create more equitable solutions to address the criminalization of marginalized communities.
“The Committee believes that Georgetown University, an institution that espouses progressive initiatives and social justice values, must follow suit,” the proposal reads. “Although rescinding the prohibition on marijuana is difficult, the least that Georgetown can do is make the sanctions for marijuana more equitable.”
Marijuana sanctions have had a larger impact on communities of color. Black individuals in America are more than three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white individuals.
In addition to disciplinary probation or suspension, students disciplined for marijuana violations also have to complete a certain number of work sanction hours supervised by the university and pay fines ranging from $50 to $150, posing greater consequences for low-income students, according to the SAO proposal.
During a April 25 GUSA Senate meeting, Senator Leo Rassieur (COL ’22) advocated for the university to increase work sanction wages from $10 per hour to $15 per hour and work to mitigate or eliminate the implementation of disciplinary fines in a resolution that passed unanimously.
“Right now, if you want to work to pay the fine you have to work at $10 per hour which is much lower than the D.C. and Georgetown minimum wages — that’s a particularly big inequity,” Rassieur said during the GUSA meeting.
D.C. legalized the possession of minimal amounts of marijuana in Feb. 2015 following the passage of Initiative 71, a measure to legalize recreational marijuana use, by about 65% of D.C. voters in Nov. 2014. However, the sale of any amount of marijuana or the possession of more than two ounces of marijuana is still illegal under D.C. law. In March, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) introduced two different bills that would permit the sale of marijuana in the district, a step towards fully legalizing the drug.
As support for the federal legalization of marijuana grows, it is likely that attitudes toward marijuana will change, even at the university level, according to Shlayen.
“Codes of conduct and laws are going to change,” Shlayen said. “I think it’s probably this broader acceptance of marijuana and this newer perception that it is not as bad of a drug as it was made to seem in the past.”
As a recipient of federal grants and funding, Georgetown is subject to the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act and the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, legislation that requires the university to prohibit the possession, use, manufacturing or distribution of drugs in connection with university activities. Under this legislation, federal law takes priority over local law in determining Georgetown’s policies, according to Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson.
“While the District of Columbia has changed marijuana laws in recent years, possession, use, or distribution of marijuana, including medical marijuana, remains illegal under federal law,” Olsen wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Georgetown’s policies and enforcement for both alcohol and drug violations have remained consistent.”
Since the SAO proposal only asks that the university lessen sanctions and not end the prohibition of marijuana on campus, however, the university would still be in compliance with its federal grants, according to Alex Seitel (COL ’23), a SAO member.
“It’s not different from the federal law,” Seitel said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “You would still get a sanction if they found you with marijuana or you were giving it to someone else, it just wouldn’t be to the same extent as another drug.”
Several other federally-funded universities in states where marijuana is decriminalized have independent marijuana policies with sanctions identical or similar to their alcohol policies, including Williams College, Syracuse University and Bates College.
SAO members are hopeful the university will be receptive to the proposals, even if it is not fully accepting of all of the SAO’s current ideas, according to Shlayen.
“I think we can start a conversation about it and be able to discuss the support we’ve been seeing,” Shlayen said.
Hoya Staff Writer Andrew Park contributed reporting for this article.