Occidental maintains marijuana policies following Proposition 64

Sam Peck-Sanders

There will be no changes to Occidental College’s policies concerning marijuana usage on campus as a result of the statewide California vote to enact The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, also known as Proposition 64, Nov. 9, 2017. Occidental must comply with federal laws due to the federal financial aid funding it receives, according to Sara Semal, senior director of Emmons Wellness Center. Federal laws continue to prohibit the use of marijuana for any purposes, including medical purposes, even if the user has a medical marijuana card.

“[The vote] changes what we discuss about marijuana,” Tom Wesley, assistant director of student conduct for Residential Education and Housing Services (REHS), said.

Wesley, a member of the college’s Alcohol and Other Drugs Committee (AOD), said the committee is discussing measures to mitigate any potential student behavior changes on campus due to the passage of Proposition 64 such as overconsumption of THC through edibles.

“[Prop. 64] is different than other marijuana legalization bills that have been passed in other states like Colorado and Washington,” Charlie Witwer (senior), senior adviser of Oxy Students For Sensible Drug Policy, said.

Courtesy of Johnny Franks

According to Witwer, the bill includes a section making expungement of old marijuana-related crimes easier as well as detailing the use of tax revenue from marijuana sales for community reinvestment initiatives. These initiatives focus on helping communities of color and low-income communities that were most affected by previous punitive drug policies in California.

Athena Villard (sophomore), chapter leader of Oxy Students For Sensible Drug Policy, said that it remains difficult to get marijuana-related crimes expunged in Los Angeles as opposed to in San Diego or San Francisco, where Proposition 64 allowed for the automatic expungement of such crimes.

“We do not allow for the use of medical or recreational marijuana on campus,” Semal said. “That’s not to say that [federal law] is something that we agree with or something we would want to change or not want to change.”

Discrepancies between state and federal law affect the way in which the college reports crime statistics to the federal government.

“We report our federal crime statistics to the U.S. government every year, but we defer to the state law for crime stats for marijuana,” Wesley said. “So someone might do something that’s not a [state] crime because they have a medical card but it might be a federal crime. We have to make sure we’re reporting based on state law.”

Federal law prohibits changing any college policies to allow for marijuana usage in any regard, but Villard said the school should still update some of its policies.

“What they can change is the way that they do the conduct process,” Villard said. “I’ve noticed inconsistencies, a lot of people have noticed inconsistencies, with the conduct process where one person who’s seen smoking gets written up and the next doesn’t, or two people get written up and then only one actually gets in trouble. There needs to be more consistency within [Residential Education and Housing Services].”

Wesley said the nature of the college’s conduct process is educational and supportive.

“It’s supposed to be an educational and developmental process, and it’s not supposed to be a judgemental, finger-wagging, punitive process,” Wesley said. “The idea is to support students despite whatever might’ve happened that brought them in there. We have a light-touch process, and most students only go through it once if they go through at all.”

Villard believes the conduct process needs to exert equal weight on all students, or at least reveal why some are punished more severely than others.

“Something I’d like to see put in place is a really transparent way of figuring this out so there are no more inconsistencies,” Villard said.

The lack of change in campus policy does not lessen the commitment of Emmons Wellness Center to provide confidential resources to students, according to Semal. The goal of Emmons is to provide confidential support, with no possibility of punishment, for students concerned with medical issues related to drug use.

“I’m a realist,” Semal said. “People smoke pot. Let’s find a way for you to do it that is safe and doesn’t break the law.”