Rachel Adele Robillard Multimedia Journalist
Making Marijuana a Low Priority for UTPD
The University of Texas at Austin Student Government usually attracts a handful of audience members to the general assembly meetings. However, on Tuesday, March 19, twice as many spectators attended at the general meeting in the UT Student Activity Center.
New legislation about making marijuana a low priority for the university police department on the UT campus spurred a high attendance rate. UTSG representatives Robert Love Jr., Nadia Al-Aubaidy and Garrett Riou presented the legislation with the purpose of focusing on effective use of economic resources and equality under the law, not encouraging marijuana smoking.
For her first time, junior journalism major Tiffany Khezri attended the UTSG meeting as a spectator since she was captivated by what the assembly had to discuss.
“I thought the legislation was an interesting topic to bring up, and it is extremely relevant to a college campus,” Khezri said.
Before presenting the legislation, Graduate School Rep. Al-Aubaidy informed the assembly of scientific evidence and research regarding the legalization of marijuana. Based on her research, Al-Aubaidy said that most violent crimes in the United States are linked to the use of alcohol.
“The government does not track violent acts specifically related to marijuana use, as the use of marijuana has not been associated with violence,” Al-Aubaidy said to the assembly.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, although marijuana is not categorized as a violent drug, marijuana is the most common illicit drug used in the United States. Since 2007, marijuana’s use has increased among young people.
Graduate School Rep. Love commented that 65 percent of the population, including the UT campus’ population, age 18-30 supports the legalization of marijuana. Love does not encourage smoking on campus, yet his focus is to represent the students by leading an effective marijuana policy on campus.
Based on its legislation, The University of California at Berkeley has marijuana as the lowest priority for police since 1979. For almost 35 years, Berkeley police have been instructed not to persecute or arrest students regarding possession of marijuana.
“We are a very progressive campus. And by progressive, we are forward thinking,”
Love said while proposing the legislation.
Love emphasized the purpose of the legislation: good use of economic resources and equality under the law. Specifically, he stated that UTPD should be investing in violent crime resolution rather than pursuing smoke emanating from students’ dorm rooms.
“We want to see police resources utilized to keep us safe rather than to persecute certain students,” Love stated. “By making marijuana a very low priority for police, it levels the playing field so they cannot have selective enforcement of the law on certain minority groups on campus.”
Via email, UTPD Chief Dahlstrom commented that his priority is the safety of the campus. Thus, a community cannot pick and choose what they want to enforce upon them.
“Our job is to enforce the laws of the state and/or the university. It is not the job of law enforcement officers to pick and choose what they want to enforce,” Dahlstrom said.
Dahlstrom also mentioned how state employees are not allowed to be anything but neutral on legislation items. On the other hand, that is not the case for the UTSG assembly.
Once Love and the other authors presented the legislation, the general assembly followed with questions such as, “Why should it be lower than j-walking?” asked University-Wide Rep. Josh Gold and “Do you think this will cause a negative impact on Student Government’s image?” asked Business School Rep. Nicole Logan.
In addition, Architecture Rep. Andrew Grant Houston mentioned his thoughts of the legislation.
“I am for reducing the priority in terms of UTPD. However, we need to make sure that the bill does not come across as having a specific opinion regarding the legalization of marijuana because that is not for us to decide,” Houston stated.
Liberal Arts School Rep. Stephen Michael Vincent agreed with Houston; thus, he made a motion to postpone the legislation because the “Whereas” statements did not match up.
“Based on every statement in the legislation, it implies that we want to legalize marijuana. I do not see a single statement that directly talks about trying to optimize UTPD resources and alleviate any concerns they have,” Vincent said. “My point is not about the committee considering it; I do not think it is ready for the committee to consider it yet.”
Vincent suggested that the legislation be revised for clarity. He said there is no information on the bill regarding security issues, resource authorization, UTPD support, and why j-walking and tobacco should be raised above marijuana enforcement.
“If we postpone it, the authors will be able to reevaluate their intentions as well as the language they put behind it, which does not have a single line that currently reflects additional illegal behavior,” Vincent stated.
Since the intentions of the legislation were unclear, Social Work School Rep. and legislation author Riou agreed that the legislation needed to be edited.
“We need resources to backup our ‘Whereas’ statements so it helps our ‘Be Resolved’ resolution,” Riou said.
There was a motion on the floor to postpone the legislation indefinitely. The assembly voted by role call. The legislation was voted postponed indefinitely. Since the legislation was not voted into a UTSG committee, Love, Al-Aubaidy and Riou asked the assembly to consider the intentions of the legislation.
“If that is the vote,” Love said, “then I respectively withdraw my legislation to avoid us another vote.”