Norwich resolute about maintaining marijuana prohibitions on campus

Martha Mathis, now in her 26th year as the Dean of Students at Norwich University, has witnessed a vast number of challenges that the school has faced and overcome; for each challenge, her judgment has never changed.

“I think anything that has the potential to interfere with your success, I would not be for,” Mathis said. “Anything that can be competition for students to be the best that they can be, I am always going to vote no.”

NU will face a new test in the coming months, however, one that Mathis warns could have the potential to “really change the course of your life.”

With that risk in mind, the University plans to stay firm with its policies after the state of Vermont’s decision to legalize marijuana, according to ther Norwich University administration.

“It isn’t really going to affect us at all, in terms of our policies,” said Dr. Frank Vanecek, the Vice President of Enrollment and Student Life. “We are going to maintain our rules and regulations regardless of what the state decides to do.”

The new marijuana law, officially Act H.511, will go into effect on July 1. and it will allow adults who are at least 21 years old to both possess and grow marijuana in Vermont.

Under the law, adults will be allowed to have up to one ounce of marijuana. If they decide to grow their own marijuana, adults are allowed two mature marijuana plants and four immature marijuana plants per housing unit.

With passage of the law and its signing by Gov. Phil Scott on Jan 22, 2018, Vermont becomes the first state to legalize the drug through legislative action. But for Dean Mathis, the bill will not change NU’s position and view on use of marijuana at the university.

“Whatever the state of Vermont does around marijuana won’t affect how we feel about health, wellness, and our values,” Mathis said. “Whether they are legal, they won’t be on campus at all.”

The punishment for possession of marijuana remains the same as for any other drug: possible suspension and expulsion from the University.

Although NU cannot administer penalties to students who are of adult age, live off campus, and maintain possession of the drug, Vanecek explained that “if a student did have marijuana off-campus, it still is illegal for them to bring it on campus,” adding that “if (they) are caught with it on campus, that’s a pretty good chance at dismissal.”

The University’s mission to stand by its drug policy will also be backed by NU security. “We’re going to follow the policy of the University,” said Lawrence Rooney, the chief of security. “Whatever the University sets as a policy, and how to handle marijuana, that’s what we’ll do.”

The decision to adhere to the drug policy will carry over into the athletic department as well; Norwich, like many other institutions, has the “ability to do drug-testing for student-athletes at any point in time during the year,” said Anthony Mariano, the director of athletics.

Subsequently, marijuana is also a banned substance by the NCAA. Student-athletes found to have consumed or used marijuana could potentially lose eligibility in a sport.

Although Mariano explained that the regulations on marijuana by the NCAA have been relaxed “a little bit in that students don’t lose an entire calendar year of eligibility,” they can still lose half a year.

“There’s a formula that will say that (students) have to miss so much of one season and another,” Mariano said. “But, it’s still a banned substance and it’s still something the NCAA is testing for, and I don’t see the NCAA changing that policy anytime soon.”

With the new law coming into place over the summer when students are gone, Mathis plans to relay information on school policy staying the same to both returning and incoming students.

“The younger (students) need to know that when they come back in August, there’s no change around this,” Mathis said. “One of the things I want us to do is just that.”

Mathis writes for the Parent and Family Newsletter, a monthly newsletter put together by the NU Parent and Family Association, along with other departments, that is sent out to parents of NU students.

“One of my last letters (this semester) will be, ‘I’m sure family and parents of Norwich students have heard that Vermont has allowed marijuana, a certain amount to be grown and smoked and whatever; it will not change on campus, it is still so not who we are,’” Mathis said.

The legalization of marijuana has been something that the state of Vermont has argued and debated for years; the push for medical marijuana dates back to 2001, while marijuana was decriminalized in 2013.

A timeline received from Janssen Willhoit, a state representative from St. Johnsbury, Vt., who represents Caledonia County, outlined the introduction of seven different bills dating back to 2015, all with the intention of easing marijuana laws in the state.

The final tipping point came in the form of the act S.22, which was vetoed on May 24, 2017, but was resurrected as H.511, and retitled as “an act relating to eliminating penalties for possession of limited amounts of marijuana by adults 21 years of age or older.”

H.511 was subsequently passed and signed into law by Gov. Scott. Willhoit mentioned that there was “not much discussion in committee regarding the bill’s impact on colleges and universities,” adding that he assumed this was “because one must still be 21 to legally possess and use marijuana for personal use.”

Michael Hebert, a state representative from Vernon, Vt. in Windham County, and whose granddaughter attends NU, expressed his concern on how universities would deal with the drug on campuses.

“The other issue you got to deal with is, if you are violating federal law, does the Fed then say, ‘well, you know what, we’re going to pull your federal money,’” Hebert said. Hebert offered Norwich as an example of a potential problem with federal laws on marijuana.

“If the federal government said to (Norwich), ‘we’re going to pull money from ROTC,’ it’d be very detrimental to Norwich,” Hebert said.

Willhoit added that greater exposure to marijuana by students would be another problem that colleges and universities would face.

“Given that some college students will be of legal age, some may choose to use marijuana,” Willhoit said. “To address these issues, I believe colleges and universities will need to determine what rules or restrictions they may wish to place on marijuana consumption with respect to students, faculty and staff.”

Ultimately, the choice to either do or not do marijuana, particularly off-campus, is up to the student.

Vanecek, however, expressed the view that he “would prefer that they did not (do drugs), obviously, because our guiding values indicate that we want our students to be physically fit, drugfree, and honorable young men and women, and that’s what we expect.”

Mathis agreed. “What folks do away from campus, I can’t really dictate that,” Mathis said. “I guess the older you get as a Norwich student, my hope would be that you are able to make judgments for yourself.”

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