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.”