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Marijuana: the chronic debate. Should it be decriminalized? What are the adverse effects of cannabis on one’s health? Are you gonna take another hit or should I just kill this? These questions have been asked by pot heads and politicos alike.

It’s a fact that marijuana’s popularity is growing like a weed. Ninety-seven-and-a-half million Americans reported having tried marijuana at least once, according to the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. That’s a staggering 40.1 percent of the entire population. What’s even more interesting is that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, about 30 percent of college students reported on having used marijuana in the past year.

Approximately one in three college students is a huge population. And legally, there are consequences as well. Marijuana is illegal in Pennsylvania and thus brings with it the possibility of fines and jail time, depending on the amount of possession. Though those caught with fewer than 30 grams in Philadelphia no longer face a criminal record or jail time as of June, getting caught with more could prevent many young Penn students from getting their high-paying dream jobs. Under the current legal climate, marijuana, although widely used, can ruin lives.

The question is, how do universities react? On one hand, they want to protect their students from the long arm of the law and rehabilitate them if they have health issues. On the other, they are obliged to follow federal, state and municipal policies.

Penn’s policies are better than those of our next-door neighbor, Drexel University.

Drexel’s drug policy — which applies to possession of all forms of illegal drugs and narcotics — states that the repercussions for being caught with drugs the very first time include “suspension; loss of housing; ban from Residence Halls; counseling evaluation; parental notification; possibility of expulsion.”

Our University, however, takes a less strict approach. “The College House system takes an educational approach to incidents involving marijuana that includes a number of possible responses,” Julie Lyzinski, the director of the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Initiatives, wrote in an e-mail. These responses, according to Lyzinski, include referring students to the First Step program, sending the students to the Office of Student Conduct, calling the police and placing the students on residential probation. Still, Penn’s policy isn’t as lenient as it could be.

Penn’s policy has its pluses, and I don’t think that just because I support students’ right to get high. Unlike Drexel, where expulsion is publicized as a punishment (though it might only be used if people are caught doing more serious drugs), the people behind our school’s policy know that risking the expulsion of a substantial percentage of the student body is a potentially dangerous move. Penn also seems to attempt to help rather than punish students. Though there’s a lack of evidence for a physical marijuana addiction, there may be psychological motivators behind pot use.

But where Penn goes wrong is in its chance of involvement with the police. I understand that the University has to enforce the law. However, we spend our entire freshman year being told how Penn is one community, how it’s this great, loving family. There’s no family I know that would call the police on their kid for smoking pot.

Students seem to justify Penn’s sometimes-harsh drug policy. A College sophomore, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of it affecting him during the medical-school application process, said schools today are forced to conform to state and national law regarding marijuana policy. However, he doesn’t “know of anyone who’s gotten screwed for weed.” I don’t know anyone who’s been caught and punished either.

It may take a while for official policy to catch up with public perceptions, but observable behavior and the actions expected of staff appear to differ considerably. The University should be as lenient as it can without breaking the law.

Lance Wildorf is a College sophomore from Clark, N.J. His e-mail address is Sir Lance-A-Lot appears on alternate Fridays.

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