Student Association Fights Marijuana Policy

Photo by Robin Weinstein.


Photo by Robin Weinstein.
Photo by Robin Weinstein.

Despite numerous rebuffs from campus administrators, SUNY New Paltz students have not stopped in their efforts to change the school’s marijuana policy.

After a push at the end of the spring 2013 semester to make a change in the policy, a petition asking for administrators to change the language in the school’s current “No Second Chance” policy continues to circle the campus community.

The petition, which at the time of this publication has 677 signatures, is what Student Association (SA) Executive Vice President Zachary Rousseas said is a “call to action” aimed at administrators and policy makers to vocalize student opinion that the current policy is too harsh.

Rousseas said the “No Second Chance” policy, as it stands now, has seen students leave the school and resulted in the expulsion of several students. Rousseas said another reason students are searching for an opportunity to change the policy is because of the portrait it paints of students who support marijuana reform.

“I think another important reason why we need to change the policy is because with the policy in place, there’s a stigma that surrounds marijuana supporters,” Rousseas said. “I feel like the current policy portrays us as students who need to be controlled, who can’t be independent, who can’t make decisions themselves and I find that a little offensive.”

Student Senator Kelly Brennan, one of the leaders pushing for the policy reform, said the goal for right now is to see the language in the policy change.

“This policy states that the minimum sanction generally imposed for violations of the policy on controlled substances is expulsion (permanent separation) from New Paltz, and, where appropriate, the imposition of criminal charges,” the policy says.

Brennan said she would like to see the language change so that instead of the mimimum punishment for two strikes being expulsion from the university, this would become the maximum.

“If we could get a sanction which says no more than expulsion, which gives students a little more leeway, or even expulsion from campus rather than the entire university, that’s a success,” Brennan said.

Most schools in the SUNY system have a three strikes policy for marijuana usage. However, this and the most recent advances by SA members to change the policy has not changed President Donald Christian’s mind.

Christian said in the past that he and other administrators have no intention to change the policy. He said it is his belief that a change in the policy would hurt the academic integrity of the campus community.

Currently, the overall student GPA is a 3.1 and the majority of individual students at the university have a 3.0 or above, Christian said.

But among the 10 students who have either left or been expelled from the university due to marijuana charges, their average GPA is a 2.5. Only one of those students had a GPA of a 3.0 or above, according to Christian.

“I know we can’t demonstrate cause and effect,” Christian said. “But that’s an indication I have that if I were to loosen our marijuana policy, we might see an impact on student academic success and that is what we are here for.”

He also said he was surprised by the petition and the way students phrased their demands.

“Students are saying since there are two states with legalized marijuana, we should change our policy,” Christian said. “But there are another 48 states who haven’t legalized it and New York is one of them. I’m  little confused as to the logic there.”

Despite this, Brennan said she believes there is room for change where the policy is concerned.

“I think the culture and public perception around marijuana is changing,” she said. “I could see us making some sort of compromise with administrators within the next four years.”