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Fri., Nov. 30, 2012

Editorial: Experience says rules on pot wise on campus

“It’s ironic that all 21-year-olds in Washington can smoke marijuana except for college students,” said a Washington State University senior in a recent Associated Press article.

It’s neither ironic nor remarkable.

Students of legal age will be able to smoke pot once the new voter-approved law is implemented, just not on campuses. They can’t carry guns or open containers of alcohol on campuses either. These rules aren’t meant to punish students; they’re meant to protect them. And there is plenty of evidence that such protection is needed.

Four WSU students have been injured from falls from balconies or windows since classes began in September. Three of those incidents were alcohol-related. The latest victim in Pullman is a 19-year-old student from Bellevue who was sitting on a second-story balcony at his fraternity when he tumbled backward and hit his head. He had to be put into a medically induced coma and required emergency brain surgery. Police say alcohol contributed to the tragedy.

Clearly, young people who mix substance abuse and precarious perches are not thinking straight. Yet, these plunges occur year after year on college campuses. It would be nice to believe that upon reaching the age of 21 all people have the wisdom and maturity to avoid poor decisions, but the realities of campus culture cannot be denied. The combination of young people gaining independence from adult oversight and the peril that poses is played out with depressing regularity.

In fact, the ignorance can be staggering. While college students can represent the best and brightest of society, many don’t even know what constitutes a drink.

“You talk to young people and they think 8 ounces of whiskey is one drink,” Pullman police Cmdr. Chris Tennant said in a recent Spokesman-Review article. “The reality is they have no idea what they are doing, and the consequences are life-changing.”

No wonder emergency rooms near campuses see so many cases of alcohol poisoning. In September, a WSU freshman died with a blood-alcohol level that was five times the legal limit.

Armed with this evidence, we cannot blame any college campus for writing rules that restrict drug and alcohol use. At the same time, we think campuses ought to consider what threat marijuana truly poses. There aren’t many instances of pot-related falls. But as long as the federal government retains a ridiculous law that exaggerates the dangers of pot, colleges and universities have no choice but to ban weed if they want to receive federal funds.

How to proceed? The answer may lie in judicious enforcement. With the passage of Initiative 502, many off-campus agencies are already de-emphasizing pot arrests.

But before their children ever reach campus, parents should teach them the dangers of abusing any substance, and strategies to help them ward off peer pressure. Overestimating their knowledge and ability to cope could be fatal.

To respond to this editorial online, go to and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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