Hemp Fest argues the legalization of marijuana

By Adam McDermott

This is the first in a two-part series about the decriminalizing and legalization of marijuana.

The midnight tokers and pro-marijuana supporters came together earlier this month for a lively celebration of the 13th annual Freedom Rally on the Boston Common. For 52 individuals the peace rallies ended in arrests.

A mostly young crowd of about 35,000 showed up for the event that consisted of political speeches, a protest over restrictive marijuana laws, a hemp fashion show, hacky sacks and tie-dyes, as well as a heavy dose of Heavy Metal. Overall it was a full afternoon that culminated in a performance by the New England based Joint Chiefs, a Reggae septet.

Besides the planned happenings on stage, there was also a significant number of people getting high, and then getting caught.

“It was a pretty chill atmosphere, everyone was getting along. The big downer was that a lot of people were getting arrested. That kind of pissed me off. There were way too many cops for such a peaceful rally,” said Jim Volpe, a middler communications major at Northeastern University.

By the end of the day, 52 people had been arrested, most on minor drug possession charges, according to The Boston Globe.

The event, sponsored by the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MASSCANN), an offshoot of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), fell short in attendance compared to previous rallies that have drawn about 75,000 people.

Meanwhile back on campus, there have been just a handful of students (five students according to the most recent crime log) “referred to judicial affairs” for similar offenses in the weeks since the streets of Northeastern neighborhoods were clogged with people returning to campus for fall quarter.

So begins another school year full of academic trials, tribulations, and the age-old dilemma, to party or not to party? To revel with peers and imbibe a few brewskis or to play it sober with the soft drinks? To sip on the tea or to pass on the grass?

While the answer to the latter of the two questions may depend on whether or not your beliefs coincide with those of the Freedom Rally crowd, statistics show that 34 percent of college students surveyed admitted to smoking marijuana in 2000, according to a study released by the US Department of Justice.

A survey of Northeastern students conducted by the Core Institute indicated that in 2002: 26.6 percent had smoked marijuana in the past 30 days; 47.2 percent smoked pot within the last year; and 64.6 percent had tried it at least once in their lifetime.

“Students who smoke pot often think everyone else smokes pot, but the reality is that it’s not true. Most students are surprised by this data,” said John Birnberg, Ph. D, and Coordinator for Alcohol and Drug Education at the Center for Counseling and Student Development at NU.

“The way we think about it is that 73.4 percent of students have not smoked pot in the last thirty days,” Birnberg said.

While Northeastern hasn’t necessarily earned a reputation as the preeminent capitol of campus parties compared to other schools throughout New England, the numbers show that NU does have a party atmosphere, that is to say that abstinence from the party life isn’t universal by any means.

During the calendar year of 2001 the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution, formerly Judicial Affairs, “received referrals for 126 students for possession or consumption of illegal drugs or paraphernalia,” said assistant director Paul Irish.

Northeastern’s Center for Counseling and Student Development requires first time offenders of the drug policy to complete a half hour evaluation and then three drug and alcohol education sessions each lasting an hour and a half, a punishment that pales in comparison to the potential ramifications of getting nabbed by say, a Boston Police officer.

Even more serious consequences await college students with civil drug convictions, whether a misdemeanor or a serious offense, those students can be barred from receiving federal financial aid under the revised Higher Education Act.

For a student whose collegiate career may depend on money awarded through federal financial aid programs, the effects of a single act of indiscretion with Mary Jane have the potential to be disastrous.

Next week: How close is the US to decriminalizing marijuana?

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