by BERNADETTE D’AURIA
As of now, UMW intends to maintain its current drug policies, despite Virginia’s decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana earlier this month.
Decriminalization is not the same thing as legalization – the possession of marijuana is still unlawful. However, there are changes being made to the punishment prescribed by the state if found in possession of marijuana.
According to the bill that was passed, “It is unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally to possess marijuana unless the substance was obtained directly from, or pursuant to, a valid prescription or order of a practitioner while acting in the course of his professional practice, or except as otherwise authorized by the Drug Control Act.”
This means that possession of the drug is still illegal in the state of Virginia. However, with this new bill, the penalty for possession has been lowered. Rather than facing jail time, those who are found up to one ounce of marijuana will face a Class 1 misdemeanor, with a penalty of $25.
Director of Student Conduct and Responsibility, Raymond Tuttle, said he does not anticipate any changes being made to the drug policies currently in place.
“However,” he says. “The policy is subject to review each year, and changes can be made in both behavioral expectations and sanctions as the need arises and philosophies change.”
Currently, the University’s drug policy prohibits the possession and being under the influence of any illegal drug. Violations of this policy result in students being charged with a violation of the Code of Conduct and possible criminal charges, depending on the offense.
Max Yarrow, head of UMW’s recently established chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), anticipates the group working closely with Tuttle in the upcoming months regarding the campus’s drug policy.
NORML’s current mission is to change public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults and to assume the role of an advocate for consumers to assure that the marijuana they are purchasing is safe, convenient and affordable.
Yarrow emphasized the particulars of the decriminalization law. Possession of refined cannabis products such as hash oils and edibles are still Class 5 felonies under this new legislation.
“I think that there will be a lot of people interpreting the civil penalty and decriminalization as being allowed to have open, public use, which is not the case. We do not have any consumption laws and if an officer sees you smoking you can get in trouble,” Yarrow said.
Moving forward with decriminalization, Yarrow says, “the school’s chapter goal going forward is to make sure the education about the decriminalization is clear, that it’s known that it isn’t legalization.”
He hopes to work with Tuttle and the University to move forward with the different sanctions than are currently in place regarding marijuana use or possession at the university. Yarrow argues that marijuana sanction policy should be “more focused on harm reduction for the students.”
This involves having a class that educates these students about the different ways one can be safe regarding the use of cannabis and not doing something that could potentially harm them down the line.
“It’s like drinking alcohol,” says Yarrow. “There are safe ways to drink that people have to be aware of if they want to be responsible. It’s the same with smoking.”