Public service announcement: Put down the bottle and pick up the bong. Well, not really, but there is growing support that the alternative to unsafe drinking habits is a small, green plant.
Marijuana might be illegal, and it might be an illicit psychoactive drug, but its presence may be less harmful to the individuals in a community, especially college campuses, than alcohol. Although nobody can argue that widespread drug use is a good thing for any college, it is an underlying truth that college students love to party, and many will choose to do so under the influence of some sort consciousness-altering chemical.
In honor of the start of Alcohol Awareness Month, students from over 80 colleges across 34 different states rallied at their schools for more lenient policies on marijuana last week. Why? Harsher penalties for weed lead students to drink, and they wanted that to change. It is the belief of the group Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, who coordinated the rallies on Apr. 1, that universities with harsh penalties for marijuana use are actively causing students to drink, and potentially over-consume, alcohol.
Despite having a more permissible legal status than marijuana, consuming alcohol has very real and very dangerous effects on college campuses. Each year, an average of 696,000 students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking, 1,700 students are killed annually in alcohol related deaths, and 97,000 instances of sexual abuse are alcohol-related. Additionally, rape is more prevalent on campuses where binge drinking is common practice, as 72 percent of rape victims reported being too drunk to give consent or resist. Obviously, when not consumed in moderation, alcohol can be very dangerous.
Therefore, in the abstract, it appears that marijuana is an overall safer drug. There have been no recorded deaths from cannabis overdose, and the potentially lethal dose of marijuana is over a thousand times the effective dose. There is also no link between lung cancer and chronic marijuana use, according to a study done at UCLA in 2006, yet unhealthy alcohol consumption is known to have very detrimental effects on the liver.
Let us assume that students will choose to party with a type of drug and are indifferent to which one. Which one they choose is dependent on a variety of reasons, but certainly the penalties of consuming are one of them. Many more schools have stricter punishments for possessing marijuana, and thus students have this in mind when they gravitate toward the more available, and potentially more dangerous, alcohol. Although schools should certainly not encourage the consumption of drugs, they might consider recognizing that marijuana can be safer alternative to binge drinking and adjusting their penalties accordingly. At the very least, school-administered punishments for misuse of alcohol and possessing marijuana should be equal, allowing students to make a rational choice.
There are certainly other factors why one would choose to drink rather than smoke. One might be the fact that weed is illegal. However, many students might cite this as a deterrent and still partake in the just-as-illegal act of underage drinking. Additionally, it is true that weed is not a perfect practical substitute for drinking, as drinking is a more “party friendly” than marijuana. Yet another factor might be that the purchase of marijuana could bring about negative externalities to a community, such as drug dealers, gangs, and violence.
It seems that at this point in time, no college or university is ready to embrace weed as an alternative to drinking, and there are good reasons for this position. And of course, abstaining from harmful practices such as drinking and smoking is easily the best choice; however, college students will continue to drink. So, on a personal level, in the spirit of Alcohol Awareness Month, students across the nation should reflect on the substances that they put in their bodies, and contemplate whether or not their current lifestyle is one that they feel best maximizes their individual well-being.
Peter L. Knudson ’13, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Matthews Hall.
By Peter L. Knudson