In response to a change in state law last summer that decriminalized possession of less than a half-ounce of marijuana, the University of Connecticut announced a change to a more lenient disciplinary policy regarding the drug last week.
While UConn lowered its minimum first-offense sanctions for possession of marijuana from suspension to a warning, Yale has made no changes to respond to the new state law, under which a first offense for minor possession carries only a $150 fine. Yale College Executive Committee Chairwoman Carol Jacobs said Yale has not changed any of its policies because it treats each marijuana incident on a case-by-case basis — the same way it deals with all other incidents, so there is no codified policy to alter.
“The change in policy is a matter of common sense,” said UConn spokesman Michael Kirk. “[It] reflects the idea that sanctions faced by a student ought to be proportional to the seriousness of their offense, whatever it is.”
“Our policy has not changed as a result of changes to Connecticut law, which de-criminalized but did not legalize marijuana possession,” Jacobs said.
This non-response stands to reason, New Haven Police Department spokesman David Hartman said — a school can never be more lenient in its punishment than the parameters set by the law.
“Colleges may be able to impose additional administrative sanctions on a student or faculty member if they are in possession, but we’re not able to interpret anything beyond the legal parameters,” he said.
According to the ExComm Chair’s Fall 2011 report, four students were called before the board for use of marijuana. Three of the students were given reprimands, a mark on their record that will be removed at graduation: a freshman “for smoking marijuana in a residential college courtyard,” another freshman for smoking “outside of Vanderbilt Hall,” and a sophomore “for an odor of marijuana coming from his room.” The fourth student, who was also charged with “Acts of Violence, Alcohol, and Defiance of Authority,” was suspended for two terms. One other student was charged with a drug infraction, but the report did not specify a substance.
Yale Police Department Assistant Chief Steven Woznyk said the department’s policing strategy regarding marijuana also remains unchanged. The only difference is a change in tickets for possession of half an ounce or less from a misdemeanor to an infraction.
A male junior and marijuana user who requested to remain anonymous to avoid legal repercussions said he believed that the change in state law will have little effect on marijuana use on Yale’s campus because students already feel insulated from the New Haven Police Department and see Yale’s punishments as “lax.”
“Dealers were the only people [YPD] cops were ever interested in,” he said. “It just makes sense for the University to treat [possession of less than a half-ounce of marijuana] the same way as alcohol.”
UConn’s Kirk said his school’s disciplinary policy is proportional to the gravity of the offense under current law. Just as someone under the age of 21 caught in possession of alcohol will receive a warning, so too should a student in possession of small amounts of marijuana receive a warning, he said.
“Drug use of any kind is, was and will continue to be unwelcome at UConn, and illegal,” Kirk added.
Before the new state law passed on July 1, 2011, those found in possession of small portions of marijuana could face a $1,000 fine and a year in prison under Connecticut law.