National Trend Sparks Increase in Marijuana Usage at Chapman

by Evan Cooper

Editor’s Note: While it is the policy of this publication to use the first and last names of sources, the identities of students who admitted to marijuana use were not included in this article due to the illegal status of the drug under federal law.

The room is silent save for the dull clicking coming from the video game controllers being vigorously pushed by hurried fingers. A group of students sit in a haze with their eyes matching the bright red hue of the Chapman logo that adorns the wall behind them.

“What better way to relax after a stressful week than getting stoned with your friends for a few hours?” said one of the students as he looked away from the screen with a sheepish grin on his face.

It seems caffeine may soon cease to be the preferred drug of college students.

With availability and social acceptance of marijuana steadily increasing, more and more students are trying the drug, and people are noticing.

“I tried weed once in high school but it wasn’t until I came to Chapman that I started smoking regularly,” said one junior environmental studies major. “It’s totally part of the California culture.”

Marijuana has for all practical purposes been decriminalized in California yet the fear of repercussions remains which is why some students asked to be given anonymity for this article.

Chapman resides in a state dealing with the legal enigma that is marijuana legislation. State law allows for licensed medicinal marijuana while federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug. This classification is given by the federal government to drugs that have high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use in treatment.

The stance of the federal government has done little to curb usage by students. According to multiple students, fear of employers being critical of marijuana consumption far outweighs worries of legal repercussions.

“I think most businesses would be hesitant to hire someone who is open about smoking weed,” said a sophomore business major. “I think there is still a stigma that people who smoke are lazy and wouldn’t be good hires.”

But the national movement for legalization has attracted much media coverage and has led to an easing of the “stoner” stigma among the younger demographics. The prevalence of marijuana has led to more exposure which in turn has caused social acceptance to grow.

“In my four years at Chapman there has definitely been a noticeable change,” said one senior mathematic major. “My freshman year I would smoke weed at parties and get looks from some people, not that anyone was really shocked by it. Now, I feel like people don’t even blink an eye.”

This observation follows what has been a rapidly emerging national trend. According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2013, 58 percent of Americans now favor the legalization of recreational marijuana compared to just 12 percent in 1969.

So what changed?

The combination of lax enforcement of possession laws and boom of medical marijuana dispensaries has led to a rapid influx of new users that bridges all the major demographics.

“You can drive down any street with commercial buildings in Santa Ana and see dispensaries,” said the sophomore business major. “With how easy it is to get a card [medical marijuana license] and how many dispensaries there are it makes it easier than getting alcohol for someone under 21.”

There is no doubting the influence of medical marijuana laws on the increase in student use at Chapman.

“I got my card when I came to college because it was easy and it meant I didn’t have to worry about getting pulled over with weed in my car,” said a freshman graphic design major.

The ease in which a medical marijuana license can be obtained has facilitated the distribution of marijuana amongst the student body.

“I walked into a dingy office and met with the doctor whose only business was medical marijuana licenses,” said the junior environmental science major. “They check your drivers license to make sure you’re old enough, you pay them 60 bucks or whatever and tell them you have anxiety, it is really that easy. It’s a complete joke.”

While California law stipulates that those with medical marijuana licenses cannot in any way distribute their medication, inevitably the drug gets shared and sold.

“When I was in the dorms we used to just have one person from our hall go and pick up weed for a bunch of us each week,” said the sophomore business major. “It wasn’t like they [sic] were a drug dealer or anything; he was just getting it for his friends.”

Public Safety has seen firsthand the gradual upsurge in marijuana usage through incidents in the dorms.

“We have seen an increase over the last three years,” said Public Safety Chief Randy Burba. “Marijuana is the largest increase we have seen in drug usage over that period.”

Not all students with medical marijuana licenses are using the drug recreationally. Some students have found much needed relief from the drug.

“I have really bad anxiety issues from having to take ADHD medication and it has caused me a lot of problems since high school,” said a senior business major. “I have found that weed is more effective and has less [sic] side effects than the antianxiety medication they had me on.”

While there has been an increase in social acceptance among large portions of the Chapman community there remain students critical of marijuana usage.

“I personally don't really understand people who smoke marijuana because I don't get the point of ‘getting high and feeling happy’,” said sophomore peace studies and political science major Evette Kim. “You can do that by eating food, hanging out with your friends, working out, and listening to music.”

The critique of cannabis use also comes from substance abuse counselors who warn of the potential for dependency to develop. 

“Often students will say that they do not have a problem with their marijuana use,” said Dr. Dani Smith, Director of PEER (Proactive Education Encouraging Responsibility) and health education at Chapman. “Despite the fact that students may not meet the ‘severe category’ in relation to the diagnostic criteria, they may be currently abusing the drug or using in a way that is becoming more problematic.”

The concern that students are using marijuana without being cognizant of the problems associated for abuse is a concern to school administrators. 

Dr. Smith pointed to research that shows that adolescents brains can be negatively affected by repeated use of the drug, especially in the parts of brain that control memory and learning.

However, some students point out that marijuana use is similar to alcohol use, which is well known to be detrimental to parts of the body. Yet students largely ignore warnings of alcohol consumption, and the same seems to be true with marijuana.

“There is a big difference between being stoned all the time and getting high every now and then with your friends,” said a junior film production major. “My friends and I like to get high and go to Disneyland every now and then but that doesn’t make us degenerates.”

As California and the rest of the country attempt to legislate medicinal and recreational marijuana there are bound to be continued changes. In the meantime, the Chapman community must deal with a new culture, one that is still figuring out its identity.

“The worst thing that could happen if more people start smoking weed is just this; more people sitting around and playing video games,” said another student without taking his eyes off the video game. “The best thing that could happen is everyone mellows out a bit.”

+ posts