The Missouri chapters of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws held their annual conference Saturday at Ellis Library.
Representatives from MU NORML, in conjunction with the Students for Sensible Drug Policy, are working on local legislation that would enact a medical amnesty policy, protecting students who choose to seek help with drug- or alcohol-related problems from legal action.
"What we want to do is make sure that students who are perhaps engaged in substance use that resulted negatively and are experiencing overdose problems can feel safe and confident in going to seek medical help without having to fear arrest and prosecution," said Sean Randall, MU graduate and NORML Conference coordinator.
MU's drug policy was discussed at the conference. The university's marijuana policy is similar to those enforced by other major state universities: Students caught using or possessing marijuana in campus housing are almost always placed on residential probation or evicted upon their first offense.
That is a far cry from the alcohol policy on campus, which typically requires first-time offenders to complete an alcohol education course at their own expense.
"If (residential advisers) come to you and they find pot in your room, they're not just going to ask you to flush it," Randall said. "They're calling the cops, they're holding you there until those cops arrive and you're getting punished."
Dan Viets, criminal defense attorney in Columbia and MU NORML coordinator expressed similar sentiments. Police are almost always called in cases of suspected marijuana possession or use in the residence halls but extremely rarely in cases of underage drinking or alcohol possession.
"There is no mandate, no legal requirement for them to call the police because of marijuana possession," Viets said.
The Department of Residential Life policy requires the police to be contacted when marijuana possession or use is suspected, as department staff cannot legally be in possession of the drug, even to dispose of it.
"Marijuana is against the law for all people," Residential Life Director Frankie Minor said. "In that situation where we believe marijuana might be present, if we come in contact with it, we can't possess that, even if we're just going to put it in the dumpster or turn it over to the police."
Minor said police involvement is not necessary in cases of alcohol possession because as the department can summon a staff member of the legal drinking age to dispose of the contraband.
With MU drug policies in place, Viets and Randall both sought to remind students there are still ways to protect themselves from legal trouble.
"The safest thing is not to be in the dorms (with marijuana)," Viets said. "Although you have all the same rights against unreasonable searches and seizures in dormitories, the truth is that you're in a much more enclosed, high population area and the odds of you getting caught are much greater."
Residence hall residents enjoy the same rights against unwarranted police searches as homeowners and renters and need not open their doors to police unless presented with a valid search warrant.
"Marijuana is illegal, and nothing you say will change (a police officer's) opinion," Randall said. "Exercise your constitutional rights, remain silent, ask to speak to an attorney and don't submit to a search."
Randall reminded students of their rights.
"If they're asking to come in, the reason that they're doing so is because they need your permission," he said.
By John Gehringer
November 10, 2009