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Vermont residents support marijuana decriminalization

Montpelier vote sparks debate about UVM policy

Published: Monday, March 22, 2010

Updated: Monday, March 22, 2010 16:03

marijuana

Ellen Brunsgaard

Montpelier residents voted in favor of the statewide decriminalization of marijuana at town meeting day on Mar. 4.

Some Vermonters are beginning to think the grass might be greener on the other side.

Montpelier residents voted in favor of the statewide decriminalization of marijuana during the Town Meeting Day on March 4.  Voters approved the referendum 1,530 to 585.

As everyone from potheads to politicians debate the fate of marijuana in Vermont, the UVM community is left discussing what decriminalization would mean for the University. 

"If drug policies were to change at UVM, it would probably start with conversation — student-generated discussion," Assistant Director for Student Ethics and Standards Troy Headrick said.

Even if marijuana were to be decriminalized in Vermont, it would still be illegal — but students would no longer be arrested for minor offences, Headrick said.   

According to the Federal Student Aid guidelines, students who are arrested are at risk of losing financial assistance.

"Getting arrested can get rid of your financial aid," former UVM student Alex Heartly said. "At least if it were decriminalized, you wouldn't have to worry about that."

However, not all of the details are clear yet. 

"I want to know how [decriminalization] would affect ResLife's policies," Heartly said.

"Could the police still search your room if it smelled like marijuana?"

There are University policies that don't have anything to do with state laws that are meant to maintain a healthy student body.

"I can't imagine it would ever change the smoke-free dorm policies," Headrick said. There's even a strong advocacy from med students to ban smoking on campus altogether — whether it's tobacco or marijuana, SGA President Bryce Jones said.

Moreover, a change in state law doesn't necessarily mean University policies have to change.  However, some said they think new policies should be considered. 

"The University should definitely critique its policies to accommodate student interests," Jones said. "If state law does change, we'll examine what parts of the policy would be affected."

Assistant Vice President of Student and Campus Life Annie Stevens said she believes the policy would change if the law changes.

"Policies change every two to three years," she said.

The most recent changes have been to alcohol policies, but the drug policies have not changed, Stevens said.

"It's hard to speculate which parts of the policies could change," Stevens said. "There would have to be a group assembled to review the policies and determine what can be changed."

Several students also speculate about what the decriminalization would mean for UVM. 

 "I don't think that people who smoke marijuana do bad things," sophomore Anthony Baez said.  "You already see it everywhere, so I don't think [policy changes] would really change anything."

Despite the vote in Montpelier, the discussion of marijuana laws in Vermont and UVM continues without resolution.

"I think students are reasonable about wanting a safe and healthy campus," Stevens said. "It's going to take some discussion to determine what's the most beneficial to our community."

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