Many times, when students tell stories of friends being rushed to the hospital or causing serious injury to themselves or someone else, they are talking about alcohol overdoses.
But that isn’t always the case.
A new nationwide campus tour advocating increased awareness of marijuana use and student safety made its way to the campus yesterday.
Mason Tvert, the executive director of the Colorado-based Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), came to the university to promote public discourse on the taboo subject of which recreational drug — marijuana or alcohol — causes more harm to young people.
Standing in front of the Administration building yesterday morning, he held a sign emblazoned with a quote from university President Dan Mote: “Virtually every sexual assault is associated with alcohol abuse.” Mote told The Washington Post last year. “Almost every assault of any kind is related to drinking.”
The quote also appears in Tvert’s book Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? because, he said, it highlights an acceptance of campus culture that promotes alcohol consumption.
“We cited Mote because he’s a great example of how administrators on college campuses have their heads in the sand,” Tvert said. “They’re unwilling to acknowledge that marijuana is a safer alternative to getting intoxicated.”
Armed with studies from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Task Force on College Drinking and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that explained how many deaths and injuries are caused by binge drinking, Tvert has created the Emerald Initiative — a call for objective debate on the effects of marijuana compared with those of alcohol. The petition responds to the Amethyst Initiative, signed by Mote and 134 other university presidents, that advocated for public discourse on whether the drinking age should be lowered to 18 and for a full discussion of what can be done to curb binge drinking.
“Number one, it’s illegal for 18, 19 and 20 year olds to drink so in both cases, it’s a debate on changing the law,” Tvert said. “I don’t understand why they want to debate youth drinking but won’t debate letting college students use a safer substance. Instead of saying ‘drink responsibly’, why don’t we say ‘party responsibly?’”
Tvert hasn’t had much luck convincing a skeptical public: although the Emerald Initiative has existed for several months, not a single college or university president has signed it.
At a lecture yesterday evening in the Art/Sociology building, Tvert largely preached to the choir.
“In my mind, there’s no debate on which one is safer,” said Zachary Brown, president of the university chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
But marijuana advocates face far larger opposition when they try to engage the administration in a conversation on the subject.
A SAFER-sponsored Student Government Association referendum on reducing the penalties of on-campus marijuana use to equal those of underage drinking passed with 65 percent of the student body in 2006, and the Residence Hall Association passed a measure to loosen pot penalties the following year. But the Department of Resident Life halted the momentum by standing firm on current penalties, which punish on-campus marijuana use on par with rape, arson and assault: suspension from school, possible expulsion from housing and, if the case enters the judicial system, automatic loss of state and federal aid.