When two Gonzaga University basketball players were arrested on suspicion of drug possession over the weekend, administrators at the college said it came as a shock.
But national and regional statistics show that drug use – and especially pot smoking – has remained a part of life for a significant minority of teens and college-aged youths for years.
While use of marijuana among minors nationwide has tailed off in recent years, it’s still up since the early 1990s, according to the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy. Marijuana is the most-used illegal drug in the country among all age groups – the federal government estimates 40 percent of the population has used it at least once.
While surveys of GU students were unavailable Monday, university spokesman Dale Goodwin said, “My guess would be we’re a microcosm of the larger universe we live and work in.”
In that larger world, more than 42 percent of high school seniors surveyed nationally in 2006 said they’d used marijuana at least once. Among all college students surveyed in 2006, that figure was 36 percent. About a fifth of college students smoke marijuana regularly, a figure that has fluctuated by just a percentage point or two over the past decade, according to annual surveys conducted by Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
Use of hallucinogens – the other drug that police say they found in the car of GU basketball players Josh Heytvelt and Theo Davis during a traffic stop late Friday in Cheney – is much lower, with fewer than 3 percent of college students saying they used them regularly.
Among college athletes, drug use figures are likely lower. A 2001 survey of NCAA athletes reported that 28 percent said they’d smoked pot. Before the GU case became big news, there were several other high-profile cases of NCAA athletes landing in trouble for using the drug.
Most recently, Notre Dame basketball player Kyle McAlarney was kicked out of school in December and won’t be allowed to re-apply until next season after he was discovered by police in circumstances similar to the GU case. McAlarney was stopped by a police officer, who said he smelled marijuana, then found some in the player’s car.
If a player fails an NCAA drug test, the punishment is a one-year suspension.
Cheney police say they found a small amount of marijuana and some hallucinogenic mushrooms in the car of Heytvelt and Davis after they were pulled over. The marijuana possession charge is a misdemeanor, but possession of the mushrooms is a Class C felony.
The players have been suspended from the team indefinitely, and Goodwin said he couldn’t comment further on the university’s disciplinary actions against them.
In general, he said, violations of the school’s drug and alcohol policies are handled by the Office of Student Life, which can impose punishments ranging from a reprimand to community service to expulsion, though expulsion for a first-time drug offense would be uncommon.
The university’s student conduct code prohibits the use of illegal drugs. If a violation of that policy is alleged, Goodwin said, the first step would be a meeting with a counselor from the university’s Office of Student Life. Within a week of that meeting, the student would be assessed by two counselors to see if the student has a substance abuse problem or some other long-term issue, Goodwin said.
Ultimately, a Student Life adjudicator will decide on punishment, though that typically comes after any criminal proceedings. In the interim, students can sometimes face various levels of probation, which can include reprimands, community service and restrictions on activities.
Deacon Meier, the dean of students at Eastern Washington University, said students at EWU who violate the school’s policies against the use of illegal drugs can face a range of punishments from warnings to expulsion. But he said the school typically is trying primarily to help students deal with problems and stay in school, not punish them harshly – particularly with first offenses.
Sanctions might include counseling or other forms of education, he said.
“We need to get them believing we’re serious about this and we won’t tolerate it,” he said. “But we care about them as students and want them to turn things around.”
If the student in question is an athlete, he or she may face additional punishment for violating team rules. Those punishments are typically carried out by the coach or athletic director, he said.
While drugs have been a presence on college campuses for decades, Meier said that a larger problem is binge drinking. The Southern Illinois University study showed that 86 percent of students in Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada drank at least occasionally, and that 20 percent were heavy or frequent drinkers.
“Marijuana’s around and marijuana will be around,” he said. “I can’t say whether students are smoking as much as they did 15 years ago.
“But I think we’d have to say, at most campuses and certainly at Eastern Washington University, that alcohol is the drug of choice.”