The Georgetown University Police Department referred 84 drug-related offenses for disciplinary proceedings in 2017, an increase of 180 percent, from 30 cases in 2016, according to this year’s Annual Security Report released Sept. 28.

Georgetown, along with other colleges and universities who participate in federal financial aid programs, is required to publish crime statistics annually under the 1990 Clery Act. The surge in referrals for drug-related violations was not the result of a shift in university enforcement of drug prohibitions, but rather an increase in student drug use, according to Grant Olson (COL ’19), director of Georgetown’s Student Advocacy Office, which provides resources to Georgetown students facing disciplinary proceedings.

FILE PHOTO: RICHARD SCHOFIELD/THE HOYA Georgetown’s Annual Security Report found that drug-related offenses tripled between 2016 and 2017. The university attributes the increase in drug deferrals to the decriminalization of marijuana in D.C.

“We’re seeing more marijuana cases, but there hasn’t been an application shift,” Olson said. “The numbers might be increasing, but the actual punishments are not hugely different, depending on the nature of the case.”

University officials maintain that there has been no change in GUPD’s application of Georgetown’s current drug policies, instead connecting the rise in drug case referrals to an increase in student drug use following the 2015 decriminalization of marijuana possession in Washinton, D.C., Georgetown University spokesperson Matt Hill wrote in an email to The Hoya.

“[The District’s 2015 decriminalization of marijuana possession] has likely increased access to marijuana throughout the area,” Hill wrote. “As access to marijuana has increased in the District of Columbia and Georgetown polices have remained consistent, there has been an increase in student conduct referrals for drug-related violations.”

While marijuana possession remains prohibited by the university’s Code of Student Conduct, its decriminalization means the U.S. Department of Education no longer requires Georgetown to report disciplinary referrals for such cases under the Clery Act. As a result, the statistics in Georgetown’s Annual Security Reports since 2015 do not include disciplinary cases for marijuana possession involving students over 21. Hill did not provide the figures on referrals for these cases.

This rise in student drug use, however, has not been followed by a similar increase in disciplinary referrals for drug offenses at other local universities. According to the 2018 Annual Security Report from The George Washington University, disciplinary referrals for drug law violations on the Foggy Bottom campus increased by only 23 percent from 2016 to 2017. Main campus judicial referrals for drug law violations decreased by 4 percent in the same time period at American University.

Georgetown’s past Annual Security Reports show that the number of disciplinary referrals for on-campus drug offenses has been rising from 2013, when only 20 drug cases were referred. This year’s 84 referrals mark a 320 percent surge since 2013. Only once since 2013 did the number of disciplinary referrals for drug violations decrease, from 2015 to 2016.

The District’s 2015 decriminalization of marijuana possession follows a broader national trend in recent years of drug law liberalization. Since 2012, nine states have fully legalized recreational marijuana. Olson believes this growing national tolerance has manifested itself at Georgetown and is partially responsible for the increase in drug case referrals.

“In my view, a lot of the increase in the number of drug cases being referred could be linked to the increased nationwide acceptance of marijuana in both recreational and medicinal contexts,” Olson said.

Marijuana use among college students does appear to be increasing: The percentage of college students who have smoked marijuana in the past year reached a 30-year peak in 2016 at 39 percent, according to the University of Michigan’s annual “Monitoring the Future” study.

For comparison, the number of alcohol-related offenses on Georgetown’s main campus that GUPD referred for disciplinary proceedings was 333 in 2017, which marked only a 15 percent increase from the previous year, according to the 2018 Annual Security Report. Hill attributed this to the fact that, while local marijuana laws have recently changed, local alcohol laws have not.

“While the District of Columbia has changed marijuana laws in recent years, making the substance more accessible, Georgetown’s policies and enforcement for both alcohol and drug violations have remained consistent,” Hill said.

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