That's the question posed by a student-driven referendum from SAFER-Texas at the University of Texas at Austin asking the university to change its rules to make equivalent the punishments for off-campus consumption of alcohol and marijuana. Reported the Dallas Morning News ("UT group fights pot penalty," Feb. 13):
UT students became energized about the effort, organizers said, when 18-year-old Phanta "Jack" Phoummarath of Houston died in December of alcohol poisoning after drinking at his fraternity.That's a hard point to argue - between DWI deaths and alcohol poisoning, there's little question that abusing alcohol is a lot more dangerous than abusing marijuana. Campus officials appear somewhat open to the idea, but expressed skepticism that seemed a little silly if the article accurately portrayed their concerns. The Dallas news coverage continued:
"If you look at the rules about how you can be suspended from school, we believe the university is encouraging drinking," said Ann Del Llano, a civil-liberties lawyer working with SAFER Texas. "We see this as a life-or-death matter. If they had brought [Mr. Phoummarath] an infinite amount of marijuana and forced him to consume it, he'd be alive and breathing today."
UT health officials said that a year or two ago, the dean of students' office offered to stop kicking students out of the dorms if they were caught smoking pot in their rooms.
But campus housing officials balked, saying the smoke bothered nonsmoking students.
Dr. Chuck Roper, head of substance-abuse programs at UT's health services center, said he sees the logic behind the argument that marijuana isn't going to cause deaths like alcohol poisoning does. But organizers appear to be comparing recreational smoking to binge drinking instead of social drinking, he said.
"I'm not sure you're comparing apples to apples at that point," Dr. Roper said. "I understand the logic behind it but ... I don't think you should be encouraging students to break the law and get in trouble. Just like I don't think students should be encouraging students under the age of 21 to be drinking."
Well, I'm not sure Dr. Roper is comparing apples to apples - both marijuana and alcohol can be abused or consumed responsibly. But when alcohol is abused, often people die. The SAFER campaign is based on the successful effort in Denver by the same name, only the non-binding referendum is aimed at university campus rules instead of changing local or state laws. "Similar movements are afoot in Ohio, Maryland, New York and Florida," the News reports..
Sounds like a really good approach to me.