An infographic explaining how four-in-ten U.S. Drug Arrests are from marijuana
Statistics from Pew Research

Ian Macel ’24 (He/Him), Politics Editor & McKinley Lettre ’24 (She/Her), Staff Writer

In North Carolina, possessing, distributing, and cultivating marijauna is illegal. Punishments range from a small fine for possession of under .05 ounces to 18 years in jail for possession or cultivation of 10,000 pounds or more. 

Federally, marijuana remains illegal, and is classified as a schedule I controlled substance. This classification also includes drugs like ecstasy and LSD, as they “have no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.” 

However, all over the U.S., there have been pushes to legalize, or permit the use of marijuana, and to decriminalize marijuana, meaning offenders would not be punished with a jail sentence. Eighteen states and Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana use for adults, and 37 States have legalized medicinal use of cannabis. 

While North Carolina has not legalized either medicinal or recreational use, there have been multiple bills proposed in the State Legislature to do so. One that has gained the most traction, the NC Compassionate Care Act, is expected to reach the Senate floor for a full vote later this spring. 

The bill would legalize medical marijuana use for a select group of patients with cancer, epilepsy, HIV, or other debilitating conditions, as well as a confined group of patients diagnosed with PTSD. It would be one of the most restrictive legalization bills in the country, but could pave the way for further legalization in the future. 

According to a 2021 poll conducted by Elon University about North Carolinean’s opinions on marijuana, 73 percent of respondents favor legalizing medicinal use of marijuana, 54 percent support legalizing recreational use, and 64 percent believe that legalization would support the state economy. Although the majority of the population supports legalization in some capacity, NC politicians have adopted typical partisan attitudes on marijuana. Democrats tend to favor legalization, while Republicans oppose it. These partisan stances are clearly presented in the race for NC’s US Senate seat that is up for grabs in 2022. 

Cheri Beasley, projected frontrunner in the May 17th Democratic Primary for US Senate, supports the legalization of marjiuana. In a tweet from July 2021, Beasley states, “It’s past time we legalize & regulate cannabis in NC. Taking this action will strengthen our economy, help family farms, & reform criminal justice.” 

The NC Republican Primary for US Senate is slightly more contested, yet both frontrunners, Ted Budd (currently +10 in polls) and Pat McCroy, do not support marijuana legalization efforts. 

As US Representative for NC’s 13th District, Budd repeatedly voted against laws to legalize or decriminalize marijuana. In a 2020 memo, Budd, with a group of 10 other Republican Representatives, specifically stated, “We remain opposed to liberalizing drug laws.” 

McCroy, former Governor of NC, in 2018 stated that before any laws were passed to legalize mariuana, “we need to educate the public on long-term addiction, safety and mental health issues related to all drugs including marijuana.” 

At Davidson College, as described in the student handbook, students possessing or using marijuana are subject to campus disciplinary proceedings, in addition to criminal prosecution. However, it is neither clear what the campus disciplinary proceedings look like nor who enforces them. 

When asked about the role of campus police in marijuana policy, Chief Julian Coaxum replied, “the police department doesn’t have anything to do with creating or enforcement of policy, that is handled by the Dean of Students office.” Dean Walter Snipes, the Dean of Students, replied that all of the college’s stances on marijuana can be found in the student handbook, which is managed by Dean Sarah Buchanan. Dean Buchanan did not respond to a request for comment. 

The handbook states that “possession of paraphernalia associated with the use, possession or manufacture of a prescription drug or controlled substance” is strictly forbidden. The first two times a student is found violating marijuana policy, they are required to participate in a drug education program and perform five hours of community service. Their families are also contacted. The third violation may result in suspension for one or more semesters. If a student is found selling marijuana on campus, they are suspended indefinitely. 

These consequences differ from those for underage alcohol use: most students who are caught drinking underage are solely required to write a paper or do an educational project on alcohol abuse. There is no requirement to go to counseling, nor are their families contacted. A third alcohol offense results in a meeting with the Code of Responsibility council, not a suspension. 

If a student who is drinking underage calls for medical help, they are given amnesty. The student handbook explicitly states that “amnesty does not apply to behaviors other than consumption of alcohol,” meaning that a student who calls for medical help while using marijuana will face punishment from the college. 

The role of enforcing marijuana policies on a day to day basis falls mainly on student Resident Advisors (RAs). Current RAs are not allowed to speak to the Davidsonian about college policies, but according to former RA TJ Elliott ‘21, the RA’s job is “to report any suspicion of the use of marijuana in the dorms.” RAs are also told to look for drug paraphernalia during room checks. If an RA sees or smells marijuana, they are told to report it to their Area Coordinator (AC). “I personally haven’t had to deal with it, but I know the ACs would come in and sometimes campus police would come and handle the problem,” says Elliott. “From there, it’s out of the RA’s hands.” 

The pressure of getting caught using marijuana is especially high for student athletes, who face random drug testing. According to Chris Clunie, the Director of Athletics, drug testing is done “at a minimum of once a semester,” though the NCAA reserves the right to test at any time. 

The first time the Athletic Department finds a student to be using marijuana, they “handle the violation in-house,” says Clunie. The Dean of Students office is not notified until the second offense. Athletic eligibility is not impacted until the third offense, which leads to a 50% suspension for competition. All scholar-athletes caught with marijuana are required to go to counseling. 

Policy towards marijuana use for athletes has been recently amended to be more relaxed. “We’ve had some good conversations with scholar athletes and faculty and staff specifically surrounding marijuana,” says Clunie. “We’re trying to come at it from more of a partnership and support perspective as opposed to hey, we’re trying to bring the hammer down.” The school’s policy towards drugs in athletics differs from the NCAA’s. “With the NCAA, it’s one and done. Doesn’t matter what it is, you lose a whole year,” Clunie disclosed. 

Policies regarding marijuana use in athletics are significantly less strict than those for other drugs. Use of any other drug leads to an automatic referral to the dean, as well as a 10% suspension for the first offense and 50% for the second. 

It is not abundantly clear who is in charge of enforcing marijuana policies, or how consistently they are enforced. It is also not clear why the consequences for marijuana differ from the consequences for underage drinking, both of which are illegal. As marijuana use becomes increasingly more common, as new legislation is introduced both at the state and national level, Davidson will have to reassess their current marijuana policies and how they are enforced: and the impact both of those things will have on students.