Over a year after California legalized marijuana consumption, campus enforcement of recreational marijuana use remains murky.
Smoking marijuana in public remains illegal under California law, and official University policy continues to prohibit recreational marijuana usage on University property such as residential dorms. But day-to-day enforcement by Stanford police and residential staff is less clear-cut.
Ralph Castro, director of the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education (OAPE), explained that repercussions for marijuana use on campus can differ depending on where the incident took place.
In a residential context, for example, dorm staff are responsible for infractions that take place within 30 feet of the residence. Smoking in campus residences may lead to administrative action from Residential Education (ResEd), including removal from student housing, as well as referral to the Office of Community Standards (OCS) for potential disciplinary action or to “the appropriate authorities for prosecution,” according to the University’s policy on controlled substances and alcohol.
On the other hand, smoking in public areas can lead to police citations on top of Stanford sanctions, even if individuals holds a medical marijuana license.
Students found in violation of University policy by administrators or police are brought to OAPE in order to reflect on their substance use, with the intent of “educating the student rather than disciplining them,” Castro said.
According to an undergraduate resident assistant (RA) who requested anonymity, police mentioned in staff training that students caught smoking without a medical license may receive a warning rather than a citation if they claim they have a license.
These verbal warnings do not enter students’ criminal records but may be relayed to the University staff during meetings between the administration and the police, said Lt. Jon Hernandez, who oversees the Records and Investigative Services Division of Stanford Public Safety Department (SUDPS).
Citations, on the other hand, are reported to OAPE, ResEd and the Dean of Students “at a minimum,” Hernandez added.
In an email to The Daily, Deputy Sheriff Braden Shaw of SUDPS wrote that individuals who do not have a medical license or are under 21 are also subject to a small fine — “similar to being on your cellphone while driving.”
Meanwhile, possession of over an ounce of edible marijuana is treated as possession for sale, which counts as a misdemeanor. When a student is cited for possession, the presence (or lack thereof) of a medical marijuana card is noted in the report for the District Attorney to review, and the DA’s office makes the final decision on filing charges.
Though Stanford prohibits marijuana use on University property, residential staff do not always follow policy to the letter.
“If we see someone smoking in the dorm, our role is to is to tell them they can’t do so,” said Larry Jacob ’19, an RA in Wilbur hall. “And if someone is smoking outside and it’s coming into the dorm, it’s disturbing the peace, so we also tell them not to smoke there.”
According to Castro, this year’s PHEs received more extensive drug use training, especially around edible marijuana and dosing, compared to previous years. Only 12 students were cited for marijuana consumption last year, compared to 29 percent of students who self-reported smoking marijuana within the last 30 days in a 2016 OAPE survey.
However, current PHE Sarah Matsunaga ’18 recalled that staff training did not initially cover details about policy enforcement.
“It was really after I prompted them to talk about marijuana that we spent a little time on it,” Matsunaga recalled. “There were slides on health-related concerns about marijuana. Then I asked them about the new state policy, which is when they went more in-depth.”
Student residential staff are contractually obligated to alert professional staff about students who violate the policy, but some Resident Fellows (RFs) and student staff have gotten around the rules by advising students to smoke marijuana where they are less likely to get caught.
Student staff members’ jurisdiction ends at 30 feet beyond the dorm — a fact that some houses take advantage of when communicating marijuana policy to residents. One east campus RA who wished to remain anonymous said that she and her co-staff encouraged residents to smoke in Wilbur Field instead of near the residence halls, to steer clear of residence staff jurisdiction as well as areas where smokers are likely to encounter police. Similarly, a west campus RA said he advised residents to smoke near Lake Lagunita on explicit instruction from his RFs.
While Koren Bakkegard, associate dean of ResEd, did not comment on these specific reports, she discussed the administration’s response to cases involving substance use in general.
“In most circumstances, an individual’s concerning behavior can be adequately addressed through a conversation with a Residence Dean or referral to a campus partner such as OAPE,” Bakkegard wrote in an email to The Daily. “If a student engages in prohibited behavior that is egregious and/or repetitive, we may need a more elevated response.”
Repercussions in more serious cases can include referral to the Office of Community Standards (OCS) for potential disciplinary action or to “the appropriate authorities for prosecution,” according to the University’s policy on controlled substances and alcohol. Violations that take place in campus residence halls are also subject to administrative sanctions, including removal from housing.
In the fall of 2017, an anonymous freshman smoked outside his dorm at Wilbur field, where he became increasingly paranoid to the point where he began shaking another resident. His RAs intervened and led him outside, where they waited with him until the high settled. Two days after the incident, the student talked to his Residence Dean about the incident; two weeks later, he received an email from OCS to set up an appointment.
“They explained to me why it was kind of serious, mainly because of the assault thing, and then he said that I’ll either get a restriction or get pulled out of my dorm or even get pulled out of school,” the student said.
He added that the punishment had more to do with the physical assault than the fact that he was smoking marijuana.
However, most students The Daily spoke to were unaware or undeterred by the University’s ban on marijuana use.
Of the 30 students interviewed in December 2017, two assumed that marijuana is officially permitted on campus since it was legalized in California. Others knew of the ban, but were not concerned that sanctions would be enforced.
“I carry my lighter and pipe around campus, because the worst case scenario is that I’m told by cops that I’m smoking too close to a dorm,” said an unnamed sophomore who lives in Kimball.
As Stanford and local lawmakers continue to grapple with the implications of marijuana legalization, students seem largely unbothered by official regulations. All but one student interviewed said that the risk of actually getting caught for a policy violation is too low to curb their consumption.
Contact Alexandra Brainerd at brainerd ‘at’ stanford.edu and Surbhi Sachdeva at surbhi3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.