A reader writes:
I was a freshman at University of Maryland College Park in the fall of 1996. Back then, smoking pot then was stigmatized, but pretty common anyway. My roommate knew about my occasional habit (once or twice a month, tops) and did not approve. He knew I had a bowl in my part of our closet.
One morning, when returning from calc class, I found a campus officer in my room, being shown my bowl which had been removed from my closet by my roommate. He had called the police simply because he feared his future placement in the Israeli army was at jeopardy due to the bowl's presence in our room. This gave the police probable cause to search all of my belongings, finding a very small amount of 3 month old "shake" in the process.
Since the cocaine-related death of Len Bias in 1988, the university had implemented a zero tolerance policy to drugs. That policy led to me being removed from campus 4 weeks into my freshman year, and put on mandatory drug testing. I'm very fortunate that I have since pulled out of that dark time professionally, and now have a good job and career. But this incident was definitely a catalyst for my academic decline.
Was it my fault? Yes. I should have known better than to breach the very clear university guidelines on campus. But what is very frustrating to me is that pot is treated like deadly drugs in terms of policy. If we are going to advance a sane marijuana policy, we have to decouple pot from "drugs".
I'm a 23 year old finishing up with school. I've smoked weed on and off since high school. In college, I actually made a rule for myself; I could smoke weed if/when/as much as I wanted, as long as my grades stayed up. And they did. And I've held two steady part time jobs, been active in extra curricular activities, traveled and completed an internship.
But early in college, I was caught with weed on campus. I was arrested and kicked out of my dorm. And during that ordeal, everyone - I mean EVERYONE; my parents, my lawyer, my RA, even the dean of the college - are handing me my punishments while saying, "...even though I think it should be legalized."
A few years ago, I was arrested for possession of about a dime bag's worth of weed. Being that this took place in CT, while my residence was in NYC, this got a little complicated. I was offered 240 hours of community service plus 1 year of weekly drug treatment meetings every Wednesday. In exchange, they would wave the conviction and expunge my record completely. I said sure, but can I do this in New York City? The prosecutor said no, the community service and treatment had to be done in New Haven, Connecticut. That meant that every Wednesday for a year, I would have to take off of work, drive 2 hours to New Haven, attend the meeting, and drive 2 hours back.
No Monday-Friday, 9-5 job is interested in keeping an employee that has to inexplicably take off every Wednesday for some unstated or ill-explained reason. Not to mention the 240 hours of community service. I realized that financially speaking, it was better to fight it. Even though I am a low-income office worker, I hired an attorney. After 2 years of bruising legal action, my drug attorney (that's all he did: drug cases like mine) got my sentence nullified, which means I admitted guilt without it actually entered as a conviction. Along the way, I lost my job due to their background checkers finding out about the bust, and I blew through $3,000 in legal fees.
I don't smoke pot anymore. It's not that I don't enjoy it, or that I "learned my lesson," it's just that the possibility of getting caught outweighs the value of getting high. Should the law change, I'll be toking up that night.
I've noticed a disturbing uptick in random drug testing. Two people I am very close to have been fired in the past week (from separate employers) for doing nothing more than showing up for work, getting their names pulled out of a hat, and having smoked a joint the night before.
This tactic allows companies to trim their workforce with increasing their unemployment insurance while leaving the worker unable to collect benefits or use the former employer as a work reference when applying for a new job. I'm not an economist, but I took enough Econ in college to know that increasing unemployment while simultaneously leaving the unemployed with no means of support and hindering their future employment prospects is a bad idea in any economic condition, much less a recession/depression.