Before business administration student L even rolls out of bed there is one question she, and a growing number of other students, will answer — To smoke marijuana before school or wait until after?
Besides that, she still wakes up, goes to school and goes to work, depending on the day. The only difference is sometimes she does it while under the influence, although most of the time, she waits until getting home in the evening.
“I just enjoy it,” L said. “It helps me relax and take a load off at the end of the day.”
Smoking or taking drugs, in general, may not be the most conventional way to relax, but students balancing casual use with academic success is a trend gaining popularity at Cal Poly, according to a Mustang Daily poll, as well as other reports.
In 2006, the Cal Poly University Police Department (UPD) recorded 15 drug abuse violations, which include “health and safety violations” such as the possession and selling of drugs. In 2007, the number rose to 22 and continued to rise in 2008 to 56, according to the most recent California State University (CSU) Annual Report of Crime Statistics.
In a poll sent to more than 500 Cal Poly students last month, 177 (71.7 percent) of the 250 respondents said they have used some form of illegal drugs while enrolled at the university. When marijuana is excluded, 75 (30 percent) of these students said they have still used an illegal drug.
Director of Student Rights and Responsibilities Adrienne Miller said there is a difference between the student who comes to college and uses marijuana for the first time and the student who is already the user. The general trend used to be that a student would come to college and try marijuana for the first time. Now students leave for college having already experienced marijuana and “continue their behavior pattern,” Miller said.
As a result, she said, the door is left open for these students to experiment with other drugs when they come to college.
“It’s the whole idea of wanting to feel better and assert your rights, so taking these drugs is something that is a manifestation,” Miller said. “We are really a drug culture, and that I think affects our students. Drugs are just prevalent in our society, and there has been an increase to turn to drugs and prescription drugs to solve your problems.”
Problems or no problems, Cal Poly has a strict policy against drug use on campus.
Title 5, article 2, section 41301 of the university’s Standards for Student Conduct states that Cal Poly does not allow the “use, possession, manufacture or distribution of illegal drugs or drug-related paraphernalia … or the misuse of legal or pharmaceutical drugs.”
When a student chooses to use on campus, the main reason they get caught is because they are seen breaking campus policies or displaying abnormal behavior.
Miller said the university doesn’t track prescriptions, so behavior is the main reason students are caught using pharmaceuticals illegally. Even then, she said there are more students using than are being caught.
“I only see the handful who are brought to my attention because of their behavior or their possessing drugs where they shouldn’t,” Miller said. “I know there is more drug use than the people I see.”
L is a casual user who lives off campus, and the main difference between her house and the others on the block goes beyond just the address.
“You walk into our house and you have the coffee table that is the center of our house,” L said. “It’s where our bong and our weed are. It’s the middle of our day-to-day lives.”
Although L said her drug habits didn’t necessarily increase when she came to Cal Poly, moving off campus provided her with a more comfortable environment to use them. Since then, L has smoked marijuana almost daily.
“It becomes part of your daily life, something you’re used to, a mental state you’re used to being in,” L said.
She has been able to balance this lifestyle with maintaining high enough grades to keep her off academic probation with the university. She also plans to intern at a well-known company in the Bay Area over the summer — something she said she takes seriously and even stopped smoking for a short time so she didn’t jeopardize any chances.
“I use (marijuana) as an incentive,” L said. “If I sit here and get all my homework done, then I can smoke a bowl and relax.”
The relaxation L seeks doesn’t just come in the form of green herbs. She has taken drugs like ecstasy and mushrooms, but these are saved for more special occasions — such as concerts, raves and vacation time.
Yet, L still finds the time to make the grades and work a normal job. She is an example of the student Miller spoke of who uses marijuana but doesn’t allow it to interfere with academics or get her sent to Miller’s office.
The Medical Marijuana User
Under federal law, marijuana is recognized as an illegal controlled substance with potential for abuse. Conversely, the possession of marijuana is either an infraction or a misdemeanor (in some states it can be a felony), according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws website.
At Cal Poly, even if someone has a California Department of Public Health Medical Marijuana Program identification card, they are not allowed to have marijuana in their possession on campus, Executive Director of University Housing and Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Preston Allen said.
“We’re just moving through this whole process of how drugs fit into our society,” Allen said. “We have to keep in line with all (laws). We don’t pick and choose what laws we follow. We look to the CSU, state and federal laws and they still haven’t completely released (marijuana use). It is still considered a certain type of drug that is not legal.”
Marijuana is illegal on campus because the university has to ultimately abide by federal laws, and the federal government provides the university with funding, Director of Cal Poly’s Disability Resource Center (DRC) Trey Duffy said.
If a student went to Duffy with a medical marijuana card and documentation from a doctor stating reasons why the student needs this form of medication, the DRC would look into more than just the medical marijuana card before trying to accommodate this particular situation by allowing the student in question to use marijuana on campus.
“We would look at who it was recommended by and what condition it’s for,” Duffy said. “The student who has had cancer versus a student who has had two DWI’s and two drug arrests — you’re going to determine the case differently.”
If the student presented the documentation and proved they needed it (just like a student with a learning disability who requests extra help), Duffy then goes on record to recommend to the university that the student’s needs be met, he said. However, he said this has yet to happen at Cal Poly.
As of now, marijuana use and possession is still illegal for all students on campus and there will be repercussions for those caught with the drug, Allen said. The university’s Student Conduct Code states those who are in violation of any of the codes can be suspended, required to do community service, lose their financial aid, be barred from entering university grounds, expelled or have their degree withheld.
“At this point it is still considered marijuana; just because (the student is) not arrested, doesn’t mean (he or she) won’t have consequences for possessing it,” Allen said.
The consequences for having marijuana on campus as a medical patient with a physician-assigned card is what landscape architecture student Alex was forced to deal as a freshman.
Back in his hometown, Alex got a medical marijuana card for migraines and stress. Naturally, when he packed up and moved to Cal Poly, he brought his medication with him.
A few weeks after moving into the Yosemite residence halls, Alex got back from having a meal at VG Café at Vista Grande on campus, and was greeted by a residence advisor (RA) saying, “Hey, you reek like bud.”
Alex said he told the RA he hadn’t been smoking, but the RA still followed him to his room and asked Alex to let him in because the UPD was on its way.
Alex said he let the RA in, and he “handed (the RA) my jacket and said, ‘Does this smell?’ and he said, ‘Yes.’” So Alex told them about how he smoked off campus the day before.
“I had smoked a joint 1,000 feet off campus,” Alex said. “That is the legal distance because I have a medical marijuana card.”
Once they arrived, the UPD did not cite him, nor did they search his room. He did receive several housing violations “because (University Housing) still thought I was smoking in my room,” Alex said; the charges included drug possession and a fire hazard.
“At the time, I was mad because I went through the system to smoke weed legally, but they told me it wasn’t legal,” Alex said.
The Prescription Side
When asked what was the most common drug of choice besides marijuana, the majority of Mustang Daily poll respondents answered with some form of prescription pill. The pharmaceuticals listed ranged from Adderall (the main choice) to Oxycodone to Vicodin.
“Synthetic opiates and prescription drug abuse is nationally on the rise, and we are seeing that here too,” said Mary Peracca, the Cal Poly Alcohol and Drug Specialist Counselor.
Students often times have an “upper-downer combo” Peracca said, but it is the downers, or opiates such as Vicodin and Oxycodone, that pose the most problems.
“Opiates have a low addiction threshold, so using and abusing them can move rapidly to becoming dependent,” Peracca said.
At Cal Poly, synthetic opiates such as Vicodin are sold at the Health Center, but the other popular pill of choice, Adderall, is not.
“Whether they are sold on campus or off, there are a lot of opiates that are prescribed for real medical conditions and pain treatments, so it’s pretty easy access,” Peracca said.
If the students who are using an “upper-downer combo” cannot control their use, they may have to meet with Peracca because their use crossed the line into abuse — which is the overuse of a substance that results in negative consequences and the ongoing use despite the consequences, she said.
“There is a difference between use and abuse,” Peracca said. “If students are using, and they don’t have consequences, then it’s just their choice.”
Possession and Access
During his 16 years involved with Cal Poly University Housing, Allen has reviewed most, if not all, of the activities reported in the dorms.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say that drug use is a large part of it,” Allen said.
He has seen students try to get away with trafficking “harder drugs,” such as cocaine, but their behavior usually gets them caught, he said.
So now, students are keeping their habits off campus to avoid trouble with housing.
In the Mustang Daily poll, 100 (39.8 percent) of the 250 Cal Poly students who participated said it was “pretty easy” to get the drugs they desire. Only seven students (3.3 percent) said it was “somewhat difficult.”
“The way the whole system works here in SLO is it’s a pretty connected community,” L said. “You go to parties and people have the same weed as you, but didn’t get it from the same place. You know it came from somewhere higher up.”
Unlike L, business administration student Walter chooses not to use drugs. However, he is in a local fraternity, and has seen drug use through his involvement.
“In the past, I’ve heard of people, like a clique, who would do certain drugs together,” Walter said. “There would be a certain group really into using right before every party, but no one is using things like cocaine now compared to a few years ago.”
Since becoming involved in the fraternity, Walter has seen brothers who use, and the ones who do it consistently were always the ones people went to for drugs because of their connections, he said.
When it comes down to it, gaining access is all about location.
“It’s our catch-22,” Allen said. “If it’s not on campus, then students will go smoke and drink off campus.”
The Reasons Why
In the poll, students were asked, “What is the most likely reason students choose to use, and in what setting?” The responses ranged from wanting to have a good time at a party, to wanting to escape, to relaxing with close friends.
From the student point of view, it also varies. L said it is to relax. Alex said it’s for medical purposes. Walter said it is before parties.
From the university standpoint, it is a result of adjusting to the college experience.
Students are using drugs to relate to others in social settings when they feel out of place, or they do it for a break from demanding schedules, Allen said. The students who are able to continue using drugs and succeed at Cal Poly are able to do it because they put school first and indulge second.
“If a student is strung out on drugs, their reason for being here isn’t academic success or graduating; being under the influence has a priority in their lives,” Allen said.
Many students who choose to use are simultaneously balancing drugs with academics.
“A lot of the other drugs are harder to get or are so addictive that students can’t keep up with the Cal Poly schedule if they’re taking them,” Miller said.
L is one of those students. She balances using drugs as a recreational activity with schoolwork and still enjoys parties. Still, she feels safer when she smokes at home than when she goes out for a “legal” night of drinking.
“Alcohol scares me a lot more than weed does because of the ability to get to the point where you have no control or idea of what you are doing,” L said. “That’s not something that happens when you’re high, you’re always aware of what is going on, and you’re not in that alternate universe.”
Editor’s note: First names only are being used to protect the identities of those involved.