By JOHANNAH O’KEEFE
March 20 and 21, 233 students signed their names to a petition for a “second chance” drug policy at Mary Washington.
The petition is part of a movement on campus to replace the current zero tolerance policy for drug-related offenses. If the administration were to enact the proposed “second chance” policy, offending students would face expulsion if the university determined they had committed two drug-related offenses.
Under current policy, students may be expelled after one drug violation is reported to the University.
Juniors Mike Isaacson and Cara MacDonald, both members of the Mary Washington chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, are active members of the campaign for the “second-chance” drug policy.
As student senators, they made the motion requesting that the Legislative Action Committee of Student Senate look into replacing the current zero tolerance drug policy.
The motion passed Student Senate and Executive Cabinet.
Isaacson and MacDonald believe that the current zero tolerance policy prevents students who find themselves in drug-related emergencies from calling the police or paramedics out of fear of being reported to the university and expelled.
“A second chance marijuana policy would foster a safer and stronger university community free from fear of expulsion for what is a relatively minor offense,” Isaacson said.
According to Isaacson and MacDonald, Mary Washington’s expulsion of those guilty of first-time marijuana possession is disproportionate to the state laws regarding drug possession and use, and should be changed.
Under Virginia law (18.2-250.1. of the Virginia Code) a first-offense marijuana possession conviction is classified as a misdemeanor, and carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Any drug possession charge in the state may lead to a driving license suspension.
Isaacson, MacDonald and other SDS supporters of the policy say the crux of the issue over the University’s strict drug policy is in the safety of students.
“In the instance that a student is in an emergency, but might potentially have to confess his or her possession or use of marijuana, that student would be less likely to reach the appropriate authority figures to get help,” Isaacson said.
The group argues that students will learn from their mistake the first time without jeopardizing their safety and the safety of others from fear of expulsion.
According to the group, the pre-existing penalties and stigma from parents, administrators, and future employers would be enough of a deterrent that a change in university policy would not encourage students to use marijuana and would not lead to increased drug use by UMW students.
Dean Rucker, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Student Life said he is aware of the movement to change Mary Washington’s drug policy. While he could not officially make a statement on the issue, he maintains that at this stage, all MacDonald and Isaacson are requesting, is that the issue is “looked into,” not replaced.
Dr. Raymond Tuttle, Director of Judicial Affairs and Community Responsibility, is considering the issue, and working on a response to the motion to change Mary Washington’s zero tolerance drug policy but he is currently unavailable to comment.