Clearing the smoke around drug use at Ithaca College
By Mike McCabe
A common phrase in Ithaca, is “Ithaca is Gorges,” a pun referring to the natural beauty as well as the geographic aspect of the area. Another popular slogan that appears on many t-shirts is “Ithaca is High,” and it’s safe to assume that the statement does not refer to Ithaca College’s location atop South Hill.
It’s no secret, especially among young adults preparing to leave for college, that IC is known not only for its academic programs and proximity to Cornell, but also for the seemingly universally shared hobby of its student body: smoking pot. Of course, not all Ithaca students use drugs, but there is certainly a market here for various recreational and illegal substances, particularly marijuana.
The popularity of drug use is perhaps related to the relative accessibility to them on campus. Despite size comparisons, IC’s campus police have issued more judicial referrals for drug abuse violations than both Cornell University and SUNY Cortland combined in year-end statistics for 2007-09.
Students and school officials alike agree that while pot and alcohol are by far the easiest substances to find on campus, it is not too difficult to come across some harder drugs, such as MDMA (commonly referred to as “Molly”), LSD and mushrooms. However, investigator Tom Dunn of the IC’s Department of Public Safety and Lt. Chauncey Bennett of the SUNY Cortland University Police Department have noted an increase in prescription pills and painkillers, such as Ritalin and Adderall.
IC’s current drug violation policies typically result in a period of probation for first-time offenders. A second violation will result in harsher penalties and a third usually results in removal from campus. SUNY Cortland’s policies are very similar.However, Bennett noted that SUNY Cortland, unlike Ithaca, notifies parents of their children’s conduct following their first violations.
IC’s drug culture is largely influenced by the campus chapter of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy. In September, High Times magazine named IC the No. 1 college for marijuana activism.
A major victory for the SSDP was the passage of a medical amnesty policy last semester. The policy rules that if a student or friend calls for help after using drugs, they will be exempt from judicial penalties following a board review.
The policy is quite popular among students, as well as school officials. Nancy Reynolds, IC’s Health Promotion Center program director, strongly supported the policy.
“I think it’s a very important harm reduction measure,” she said. “We’re trying to get students to watch out for each other and call for help from a friend before the situation gets too serious.”
Despite the general approval of this new, liberal policy, many students would prefer even looser rules for marijuana use. Evan Nison, president of the Ithaca College SSDP, stated that despite some discontent, IC is on the right track.
“I think, comparably, [IC’s drug policies are] lenient,” he said. “I think they realize that strict punishments for drugs, or punishments that are worse than the effects of the drugs themselves, are completely counterintuitive.”
The SSDP is currently working for a marijuana and alcohol equalization policy, which would give equal penalties for students found violating IC’s alcohol and marijuana rules.
Despite these progressive measures, members of the SSDP insist there is more that should be done. They claim alcohol should be more closely watched.
SSDP Vice President Emma Carroll joked, “Alcohol is the one that’s going to cause people to die on campus, and pot’s the one that’s going to boost the economy through food sales!”
She added that while IC’s policies are “not lenient enough,” they are “admittedly better than a lot of other places.”
Nison also noted that alcohol is much more physically addictive, harmful to the body, intoxicating and “you have a much higher chance of doing something stupid while on it.”
Alcohol and marijuana are by far the most common drugs on IC’s campus, but the presence of other, harder substances raise the question of whether or not marijuana is a “gateway drug.”
Carroll insisted that marijuana itself is not a gateway drug, but rather it is the “D.A.R.E. effect” that miseducates young people and disillusions their outlook on many drugs. Because they find that marijuana is not as powerful as they initially thought, they may be led to believe that harder drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, will also be less harmful than they were told.
“You don’t know what the drugs do,” she said. “You think, ‘They were wrong about pot, so they were probably wrong about this, too.’”
The Campus War on Drugs
Nison said he advocates for these policies on the campus in part to address broader issues on a small scale. One of those broader issues, he said, is the general failure of the War on Drugs.
“Drug prohibition, especially marijuana prohibition, has failed utterly in every single thing it has attempted to accomplish,” he said. “Drugs are as easy, if not easier, to get than when marijuana and other drugs were made illegal. The consistency is lower, the drugs are becoming more dangerous because it’s a black market and the quality is unknown, and I’d say it’s time we at least evaluate our current drug policy.”
It could be said that a college campus is a microcosm for the world. In the case of IC, just as with the real world, drugs are a fact of life. Students use them, some abuse them and some sell them. It is apparent that regardless of authoritative bans, usage will persist, and no matter what policies and penalties are implemented, students will continue to have easy access to drugs.
Mike McCabe is a freshman journalism major who swears no doobies were smoked while writing this article. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.