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Opinion: Smoking ban must be enforced to protect disabled students

Marijuana use is common on college campuses. The 2016 national Monitoring the Future study reported that 39 percent of full-time college students had smoked marijuana in the previous year. A 2015 study from the University of Michigan showed that nearly 6 percent of college students smoke marijuana on a daily basis. Indeed Marijuana use among college students is at its highest point in thirty years.

At Vassar too, pot is common. Every weekend, I smell marijuana in my hall in Lathrop and elsewhere on campus. To say that Vassar has a culture of illicit drug use is an understatement. Vassar’s party scene and social life can at times seem dominated by drug use, at the center of which is marijuana.

Beyond the obvious health risks, I have no inherent issue with smoking pot. I support the legalization of recreational marijuana both for humanitarian and economic reasons. I do not like the government getting too involved in the private lives of its people, and I don’t appreciate Vassar College helping to enforce nonsensical, outdated drug laws. Were it up to me, possessing drug paraphernalia or marijuana would not be against the student conduct policy. While smoking marijuana for non-medical purposes is not a good idea, it ultimately only harms oneself. As long as your behavior isn’t hurting someone else, I don’t care.

However, smoking marijuana in a public place, and especially in the dorms, does harm other people. Last semester, The Miscellany News published an investigative report concerning the strain Vassar puts on the Arlington Fire Department budget Laurel Hennen Vigil writes “[The Arlington Fire Department] responds to just under 350 calls at Vassar each year. In 2016, these calls – about half fire alarms and half requests for emergency medical services – outnumbered those of our peer liberal arts schools and the two other colleges in Poughkeepsie…both in the number of calls and in the volume of calls per student.”

She goes on, “Measured in dollars, Vassar’s use of the fire district services also costs more than its peers’, taking an estimated $1 million bite out of the AFD budget last year.” While the entire budget isn’t being drained because potheads are accidentally setting off the fire alarms, considering that we now know the extent of the use new word)we are putting on the department, the least we could do is smoke outside instead. To not have the decency to do so seems not only disrespectful to fellow students, who are often woken up in the middle night to a false alarm, but disrespectful to a fire department that does its best to keep us safe despite a lack of resources, which is partially the fault of the college.how so?

But smoking marijuana in close proximity to other people is not just disrespectful, it’s also ableist. Smoking in public areas disproportionately negatively impacts disabled students. People already understand, for the most part, the negative impact that smoking tobacco has on the health of those around you. It’s generally accepted that secondhand smoke is dangerous and causes cancer, although the science is not exactly settled.

It’s also widely accepted that being around someone smoking tobacco in public could trigger an asthma attack. This is intuitive: inhaling smoke into your lungs is probably not going to help your breathing. But somehow people don’t apply this to marijuana, which can trigger asthma both in the person using it and others in close proximity. About 25 million people have asthma, and every year that number increases. Considering how common asthma is, using marijuana in the dorms or close proximity of strangers is not only disrespectful, it’s dangerous. By doing so, you are putting other people at serious risk. It takes an extraordinary amount of conceit to think that this is acceptable.

It’s not always easy to just avoid dorm rooms where people are smoking. If a room is near a staircase or an elevator or in the middle of a hallway, it could be impossible to avoid. Indeed, there is no possible way to avoid coming into contact with marijuana smoke at Vassar College, which renders the campus inaccessible to anyone with serious or life-threatening asthma. Each year, 250,000 people die from asthma; next year, could one of those be a Vassar student?

But while the possibility of subjecting your fellow students to a horrible, agonizing death may be the most significant reason to stop smoking in the dorms, it’s not the only one. Many disabled people, especially autistic people such as myself, experience something called “sensory overload To put it simply, some people find it difficult to process too much visual or auditory or other sensory information at once.

Many people with sensory overload take issue with certain smells. That’s why at some disability-related events, guests are asked not to use certain perfumes or deodorants. Now consider that marijuana is, to put it lightly, a  strong smell. There is therefore a  high risk that smoking it in the dorms could present a substantial disruption to others students’ living or working environments, especially if it causes them to experience sensory overload.

For those affected, the solution may not be as simple as working somewhere else. I personally find it difficult to return to work well after the distraction has passed. Moreover, I’ve found that, partially as a result of my obsessive-compulsive disorder, I am particular about my workspace. relocating because one space is too distracting is far easier said than done.

But even if it were feasible, why should anyone have to physically leave their living space because someone else wants to smoke pot? Why is it so important to smoke marijuana in your dorm that it’s worth it to make others suffer for it? Doesn’t make sense to just smoke pot outside rather than subject your neighbors to it? Rewrite this to exclude rhetorical questions.

It’s time to stop smoking in the dorms. Maybe it’s time to stop smoking pot in general, but it’s especially time to stop smoking in the dorms. The administration should crack down on this issue for the protection of all students, and especially disabled students. And furthermore, students can do their part by being responsible and conscious of how their decisions affect other people.


Learn more:
USA Today – More campuses have smoking bans — but do they work?

American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation – Colleges & Universities

BMC – College anti-smoking policies and student smoking behavior: a review of the literature

Jesser Horowitz ‘19 is a history major, guest contributor to the Vassar Political Review and is very active in Democratic Party politics, having worked for Kirsten Gillibrand and Hillary Clinton among others. 

2 Comments

  1. Sam Greenwald Sam Greenwald February 10, 2018

    Increased smoking in dorms is a direct result of banning smoking on campus. If students are going to be faced with sanctions when they’re caught smoking outside, they have a clear incentive to hide their smoking by doing it inside since smoking weed off campus could result in arrest. A reasonable harm reduction strategy would accept that pot smoking is inevitable and that college students are adults capable of making their own decisions. There should be places on campus designated as appropriate to smoke so that those students who chose to smoke can do so without affecting others and without facing punishment for it.

  2. Corin Rose Corin Rose February 12, 2018

    I know many students who would rather smoke pot outside, but have been persued by Campus Security for doing so. If you really want to promote this cause, you should push to remove the (pot) smoking ban on campus, while keeping it active and encouraging it to be enforced in the dorms.
    Students are going to smoke pot regardless. If Security persued students who did so in the dorms, but not those who did on campus, that would at least help your cause. Enforcing the ban entirely would do nothing.

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