Throughout frosh week I was bombarded with information about life at Princeton, but there seemed to be a special focus on alcohol education. Before I even set foot on campus, I, along with all incoming freshmen, was required to take an alcohol education course online which had a second part to be completed later in the semester. Princeton spends an incredible amount of time ensuring that students drink responsibly.
McCosh provides services for overly drunk students to safely sleep it off completely confidentially. Public Safety is incredibly accommodating about underage drinking as long as it is done in a healthy manner. Interestingly, however, Rights, Rules, Responsibilities says that "The University alcoholic beverage policy is consistent with the laws of the state of New Jersey that, in general, prohibit the consumption and serving of alcoholic beverages by and to persons under 21 years of age," when this is not actually typical procedure.
The University allows for common-sense guidelines that classify safe drinking as a very minor offense, normally one that carries just a warning, if even that. Low proof alcohol in reasonable quantities is, for all intents and purposes, allowed. The eating clubs on the Street regularly provide beer to all students, regardless of age. The University accepts that there are safe and responsible ways to drink, even if a student is underage.
Princeton’s attitude towards marijuana is the polar opposite. Rights, Rules, Responsibilities states that "Students possessing, using, selling, or manufacturing illegal substances may also be subject to mandatory penalties prescribed by the state." Public Safety officers during orientation week told us that they will just give a warning or ignore a freshman with beer in his or her room, but they are required to call the police about marijuana. It is hard to understand why alcohol, which is technically illegal for a freshman to posses, is treated so differently from marijuana, which is equally illegal in the eyes of the state.
Princeton accepts that students will drink alcohol and sets out to create an environment where students can partake as safely as possible. If that requires enforcing the law generously, they feel that is an appropriate tradeoff. Why is the same not true for marijuana?
The University currently believes that calling the cops on a student with a joint is a reasonable punishment, but treating alcohol and marijuana as such different beasts is absurd. Both are illegal for freshmen to consume, but only one carries lethal potential and adverse health risks. Alcohol poisoning is a very real threat, which is why alcohol education and McCosh are so important.
Furthermore, involving the police for such minor offenses could be very harmful for Princeton students. A drug conviction has the potential to ruin lives. Additionally, the criminal justice system is anything but fair about drug offenses.
According to the ACLU, a person is 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana use if they are black than if they are white, despite nearly identical usage rates. Further, a United States Sentencing Commission report found that blacks and Hispanics face harsher penalties for identical crimes, and men face harsher sentences than women.The criminal justice system is clearly incapable of treating drug users fairly. Princeton should take every step to ensure its students are treated fairly and not wantonly hand students over to a biased legal system for such a minor offense.
A beer in the hands of a freshman is an illegal substance that carries little risk of tangible punishment. Trade that beer for a joint, and the same student is in a very dangerous place. There are numerous advocacy groups that fight for justice on so many issues, but where are the students standing up for reasonable rules about marijuana?
Princeton has well-thought-out, commonsense rules to make sure students who choose to consume alcohol can do so safely and without undue threat of ruining their lives. It is about time similar rules apply to the use of marijuana.Beni Snow is a freshman from Newton, Mass. He can be reached at email@example.com.