A year after Michigan voters approved a ballot ini­tiative to legalize recre­ational mar­i­juana use for indi­viduals over the age of 21, Hillsdale College has neither changed its policies nor has it seen more usage among stu­dents, according to Dean of Men Aaron Petersen.

“Drugs can be a dan­gerous threat to our mission of devel­oping the minds and improving the hearts of stu­dents,” he said. “We will con­tinue to be on guard against any­thing that under­mines our mission and pur­poses together.”

Even before the vote, mar­i­juana use among college stu­dents nationally was on the rise, according to a Uni­versity of Michigan study released in 2018. It found that 43% of full-time college stu­dents ages 19 – 22 had used mar­i­juana in the pre­vious 12 months, up from 36% five years prior. Also, 24% of stu­dents reported using mar­i­juana in the last 30 days, showing an increase of 5% since 2013.

Last year, after the legal­ization of mar­i­juana, Hillsdale’s admin­is­tration decided to maintain a policy that bans stu­dents from “use, pos­session, dis­tri­b­ution, or being in the presence of any amount of a con­trolled sub­stance.”

The federal gov­ernment still defines mar­i­juana as a con­trolled sub­stance.

College Pres­ident Larry Arnn noted that even if the law changed at the federal level, the college would likely keep its current policy. Shortly after the ballot ini­tiative passed, he told The Col­legian there is “strong evi­dence that [mar­i­juana] is bad for one and hurts one’s ability to think and work at a high level.”

Petersen said the Dean’s office takes mar­i­juana use very seri­ously. He empha­sized the severity of the vio­lation and said that stu­dents can be sent home and sus­pended if they are caught using it.

Petersen added that his office is ready and equipped to help someone who comes up asking for help. “We’ve always worked with stu­dents who come to us,” he said.

Sci­en­tists studying mar­i­juana have noted that strains in 2019 are much more potent than those in decades past. This can cause serious problems for younger stu­dents who have little expe­rience using mar­i­juana. According to a study pub­lished in 2016 in a biology journal, Bio­logical Psy­chiatry, samples from 1995 con­tained an average of 4% THC, the psy­choactive chemical found in mar­i­juana. In 2014, the average THC content rose to 12%.

Simul­ta­ne­ously, CBD levels, which help reduce the psy­choactive effects of THC, plunged. This means the THC to CBD ratio exploded from 15:1 to 80:1 in just a couple decades.

Police Chief Scott Hephner said he didn’t know what to expect when the ballot ini­tiative passed, but, according to him, mar­i­juana use has not become an issue for the com­munity.

Michigan’s ballot ini­tiative left some room for munic­i­pal­ities to pass ordi­nances re-reg­u­lating mar­i­juana. In December 2018, just after legal­ization, Hillsdale’s city council voted to pro­hibit stores that sell mar­i­juana from oper­ating within city limits. Hephner said the city made a good decision when it voted not to allow retail estab­lish­ments to dis­tribute mar­i­juana. 


“People would be coming to our town to pur­chase mar­i­juana,” he said. “With that not hap­pening, we know a lot more people are using it, but we’re not dealing with it. Even our drugged driving arrests have not increased noticeably.”

Hephner said he issued a directive to the entire department telling his officers not to deal with it. “We’re not bringing it here, we’re not putting it in our property room. If there’s a vio­lation of any new laws, it’s a civil infraction ticket. It’s all been decrim­i­nalized,” he said.

For the entire department, the new law required a massive psy­cho­logical shift. 

“There was a war on drugs in this country and mar­i­juana was a big part of that,” Hephner said. “We lost people in our war on drugs. Now, it’s legalized and it rubs some people the wrong way. How could it be this big of a deal just a few decades ago, when we would send people off and they got killed, as opposed to now, when it’s okay just to do it?” he said.

Overall, Hephner said he wasn’t very con­cerned about the new mar­i­juana laws. “The biggest issue for us is getting past the mindset that it’s illegal. We’ve dealt with mar­i­juana forever,” he said. “The officers’ instincts are, if they pull someone over and find mar­i­juana, someone’s going to jail. It’s about getting past that.”