The Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCann) hosted the 20th annual Freedom Rally, commonly referred to as "HempFest," in Boston Common Sept. 19– the first time the pro-marijuana rally was held since state voters passed Question 2, which decriminalized possession of less than an ounce of the substance.
This year, 136 citations of $100 each for marijuana possession were issued. Three were arrested for possession with intent to distribute, according to the Boston Globe. This is down from 53 arrests in 2006 for marijuana-related charges.
Northeastern’s chapter of Student’s for a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) had a table at the event to educate people about the cause.
“It was good to be able to talk to people and educate the kids who were just there for the fun of being at ‘HempFest,’” said Hilary Dulin, a founding member of NU’s SSDP. “It was good to talk to them because a lot aren’t aware of policy initiatives, particularly at the college level.”
“This was arguably the best celebration of their successes in the past year, getting question 2 passed,” added Kevin Fraciotti, a founding member and current co-president of SSDP. “It was clear that the tides had definitely turned in Boston.”
While the tides may have turned in our city, they have not turned on our campus.
“Northeastern has the most draconian [drug policies] in the nation,” said Franciotti.
Co-president Kevin Wadsworth, also a founding member, compared Northeastern’s drug policy to those of MIT and Harvard.
“You have to get in trouble multiple times at either school before you see a fine,” Wadsworth said. “The fault punishment at Harvard is that you have a consult; it’s not even referred to as drug therapy, they’re very careful of the wording. Almost as if they recognize that it’s possible to use certain drugs recreationally without it becoming an abuse problem."
Dulin was a student member-at-large on the conduct review board last year. She said that it was “almost frightening to see how irrationally dedicated [the administration is] to their current ideas on drugs."
"It was a good experience to see firsthand how thick and heavy the blinders are that the administration is wearing when it comes to the drug policy in general and the policy on marijuana specifically,” said Dulin. “They still lump all illegal drugs together. If you’re caught with an ounce of heroin, you’re subject to the exact same penalties, theoretically, if you’re caught with an ounce of marijuana. That’s something they refuse to budge on … They absolutely will not take a ‘reputational risk’ as a university when it comes to bringing their policies in line with the policies of greater Massachusetts."
In the Code of Student Conduct at Northeastern, the “possession or consumption of illegal drugs, salvia divinorum, or prescription medications belonging to another individual” is a level two violation.
“Sexual misconduct is a level two violation, which includes exposing your genitals to a person or to the general public,” Dulin said. “That also includes filming a sex act and disseminating the video without the knowledge of the other person. The university honest to God believes that smoking a joint in your room deserves the same penalty as filming a sex act without notifying your partner and putting it on YouTube. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so deranged."
Student Government Association is always taking recommendations for the Code of Student Conduct, President Ryan Fox said.
"Reform is always on the back of our minds," said Fox. "We're always open to suggestions, and that's generally how things start. We are always trying to compare Northeastern to other schools in the area, physically and in the same rank as us. We feel as though that's a good way to gauge how we are doing."
Dulin said that a most basic reform would be to “sever marijuana from all other illegal drugs,” meaning that the punishment for marijuana would be less harsh than the punishment for cocaine or ecstasy. Wadsworth said that the university needs to look at the alcohol policies compared to those for marijuana.
“The penalty for using drugs is essentially double than for using alcohol,” Wadsworth said. “Meanwhile we have all these problems, community relations with neighborhoods like Mission Hill and Jamaica Plain. It’s all alcohol parties. When was the last time a bunch of stoners sitting at home really bothered the neighbors? It’s absolutely backwards.”
“Plus, it’s those same neighbors that voted yes on Prop 2,” added Dulin. “The university is worried about offending the surrounding community, when the surrounding community said quite clearly when they voted yes on Prop 2 that they really don’t care if a student is sitting at home smoking a joint and playing video games.”
Franciotti said that he doesn’t think that NU’s current harsh drug policies are helping anyone, least of all the kids who need it.
“I’ve seen positive changes in the substance abuse treatment that we offer at our school,” he said. “University Health and Counseling Services is much more upfront about advertising their substance abuse counseling sessions. I support the Office of Prevention and Education at Northeastern because of their voluntary approach. They have some OSCCR and NUPD referrals, but they really stress the fact that they want students to come talk to them. They want to hear from students first and have students come in on their own. We need further changes to reduce the amount of OSCCR referrals and increase the amount of kids going to OPEN voluntarily.”
Northeastern was ranked number 15 on a list of top colleges for marijuana activism by High Times Magazine, mostly due to the success of SSDP in fighting the administration for recognition as a group and for the success of the two conferences they held last year. NU was a co-host for the northeast regional conference for SSDP. The chapter also held a conference on Ibogaine, a drug used to treat the withdrawal symptoms of opium.
Conor Horvath, a junior industrial engineering student, said he thinks Northeastern shouldn't have a drug policy at all.
"I don't really support a drug policy of any sort," he said. "I think if students are capable of making up their own minds, the school shouldn't handle any of that, it should be up to the law. It shouldn't be the school’s priority. The school should just concentrate on education and providing a good, safe environment."
By Chelsea Reil
September 24, 2009
The Huntington News
SSDP pushes reform