Calvin’s marijuana policy remains unchanged despite decriminalization

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

At Calvin College you can be put on probation or fined for underage drinking, which is illegal, and suspended for smoking marijuana, which is punishable by up to $25 for a first offense in Grand Rapids.

Michigan is one state in which marijuana is allowed for medical purposes, but as of today there is no law that allows recreational use. This is not the case in Grand Rapids, however. In 2012, over 44,000 residents of Grand Rapids approved an amendment to the city charter that decriminalized the possession of 2.5 ounces of marijuana or less.

This does not mean possessing such an amount is without penalty. A police officer is allowed to issue a civil infraction, much the same as a parking ticket, to a person who has a small amount of the drug in their possession. The maximum fine for a first offense is $25, the second is $50 and any additional violations can be grounds for a $100 penalty.

In Grand Rapids and throughout the country, the consumption or possession of alcohol by anyone under 21 years of age is a criminal offense. Yet at Calvin College, the punishment for underage consumption, possession or consumption of alcohol is often less severe than the punishment for the consumption or possession of marijuana. The consumption of alcohol is usually met at Calvin with probation, a $100 fine, community service or some combination of the three. A student who uses marijuana, however, can be suspended for a semester or even an entire year depending on the amount of the drug found in their possession.

Senior Jalen Bouma said that he knows a student was suspended after he tested positive for the drug. The drug test was administered after someone reported that his car smelled like marijuana.

Even though the number of states in which marijuana has undergone decriminalization is increasing, and small amounts of marijuana will be considered a civil infraction in Grand Rapids in the near future, John Witte, the dean of resident life, does not think this necessitates a change in Calvin’s policy because it is still illegal at the federal level.

“A lot of our money, federal money, that we get is contingent upon us following federal guidelines about being a drug free school,” said Witte. So unless the federal opinion changes, a relaxation of Calvin’s policy is not likely to take place.

Even then, Witte says, decisions on decriminalization would affect Calvin’s atmosphere and culture.

“If we feel that it’s in the best interest of our students to be free of marijuana for the purposes of academics and community, then we would probably continue to have a policy of saying it’s not allowed on campus or not allowed by our students,” said Witte.

This would be similar to rules regarding gambling and premarital sex, both of which are legal.

Bouma argues “There are zero documented deaths due to marijuana while there are so many related to alcohol.”

While Witte acknowledges marijuana is different, he confirms the college’s position which is taken from federal guidelines and is in accordance with the current position issued by the White House that states marijuana is harmful to the well-being of citizens — especially young people.

“We have seen it play a negative role in people’s academics and lives,” said Witte. “We have seen it create negative effects in community, when students are paying thousands and thousands of dollars for a college experience and they don’t want to be rooming with someone who’s smoking or on the same floor as people who are doing that, to a college where they thought it would be different.”

Calvin believes it is not just the effects on the user that must be taken into account; it is the effect of marijuana use on the college community as a whole.

And that is where many of the cases brought to the Judicial Affairs committee come from: the Calvin College community. “All reports come in to us, that’s typically RA’s, Campus Safety and law enforcement agencies,” said Ralph Johnson, assistant dean of Judicial Affairs. This is contrary to the belief that most drug related tips come from the infamous “Fast Fifty” program.

The Silent Observer Program, or Fast Fifty, is run through the Grand Rapids Police Department; it is not a Calvin program, a fact Johnson reiterated. “Every company, every business in the city would participate with Silent Observer because it is a confidential tip line that rewards people for giving positive information about illegal activity held within the city.”

Fast Fifty is not the only part of the disciplinary process at Calvin College that is subject to confusion.

Bouma believes that the punishments are unduly harsh and do not offer much in the way of grace: “I just think it is crazy that at a Christian school they don’t practice forgiveness in almost any policy. In the end, all you are doing is ruining someone’s life by getting them kicked out of school.”

Due to privacy concerns, the Judicial Affairs Committee does not release student information or records which may allow them to set the record straight for the student body. “We make a commitment to students to keep their information private. So we are unable to defend ourselves with the facts, and we won’t do that,” said Johnson. “At no point will we go and share student records so we’ll look better. We know what we’re trying to do and we know that our goal is to help students overcome things like this.”

The Judicial Affairs Committee does not act hastily when presented with an alleged infraction to the Student Conduct Code. After these reports are brought to their attention by RA’s or Campus Safety officers, the committee evaluates the credibility of each claim and then decides whether or not to continue the investigative process.

Johnson described the committee as the curb on the side of the road. The curb bumps people back onto the correct path if they start to swerve off. “The curb doesn’t come off the street and start banging on the cars. The curb is a standard,” he said. There are some people, however, who want to turn onto a new road and choose to leave Calvin, instead of going through an addiction counseling program.