When Rosie Kavanah became the resident assistant on floor 3A in Toscanini College this year, one of the first problems she said she encountered was the constant smell of marijuana in the hallway.
“It was more prevalent than I would have liked it to be,” said the sophomore as she sat on the couch in her dorm room. “The smell usually started in the evening and would last all night.”
It became such a problem that one night, Kavanah decided to contact the university police, something that resident assistants are directed to do if they smell weed on their floors. She said the police did not want to get involved until she could provide a specific room number so she dropped the case.
Kavanah’s complaint is not an isolated one though. According to Stony Brook University’s most recent Clery report, which is the university’s annual security publication, drug related incidents are on an uptick, since 2007. Drug incidents on campus are categorized as referrals, which are handled on campus usually with disciplinary measures, or arrests that end up in the court system.
The number of arrests has risen steadily: 6 in 2007, 13 in 2008 and 19 last year. Referrals rose from 73 in 2007 to 173 in 2008 and 317 last year. The vast majority of drug referrals since 2007 went to students for violations in residential halls like having drug paraphernalia (smoking bowls and water bongs).
Sophie DelDonno, a senior who is the resident assistant of Toscanini 2B, said her first semester as an R.A., in her sophomore year, did not have the same odoriferous beginning as Kavanah’s. DelDonno said most drug users either went into woods ringing the campus or into the middle of Tabler Quad, which is shielded by trees and bushes.
“My second year is when it got more brazen and you could smell it in the stairwells and hallways,” said DelDonno sitting in the RA’s office as the resident assistant on duty. “When I did room inspections, it was the rooms that smelled like heaven that always had a faint smell of ash and smoke.”
“But because I didn’t see or smell the actual drug, I couldn’t do anything about it” she added.
One night that year though, while on duty, she said, she received a call from campus police telling her to investigate a complaint of marijuana smoke on her floor. After she identified the room, the police arrived and investigated.
“They came out with a bong, some joints and later the student who called would tell me, an eighth [of an ounce] of weed,” said DelDonno.
An eighth of an ounce is 3.5 grams. The rousting did not result in an arrest; the students were given referrals instead.
While an arrest can land a student in court and in front of the Office of University Community Standards, formerly known as Judicial Affairs, a referral sends a student to the school’s Center for Prevention and Outreach.
Lara Hunter has been a substance abuse counselor there for six years, meeting patients at her office in the Student Health Services building. She confirmed that marijuana referrals to her office have increased going back to 2006 but said she couldn’t provide exact numbers.
“In 2006, that’s when the referrals just began increasing; before, most of my drug cases had to do with abuse of prescription opiates like Vicodin and Percoset,” said Hunter during a break between counseling sessions. “Now, last year, I definitely saw more students for marijuana than I did for prescription abuse and the same thing this year.”
The website collegeprowler.com grades the drug scene at Stony Brook with a B. “Catching a whiff of marijuana is definitely not uncommon during any day of the week,” the site says. “Spend just a little time at the residence halls and most people know about it.” The website ties alcohol and marijuana as the most popular drugs on campus.
Comparable schools such as the state universities at Albany and Buffalo, scored lower, with C- and B- respectively.
Hunter attributed the rise in marijuana cases to growing popularity and the perception that it’s harmless. However, she said the effect can be gradual.
“I had a student who came in freshman year and they were only smoking socially, a joint on the weekends,” she said. Then the student began smoking a couple of times a week and later, a couple of times a day. His grades went down and he didn’t go to class; eventually he was suspended from the school after being on academic probation, she said.
Hunter added that the health effects are worrisome too; “one bong hit is still equal to 15 cigarettes,” she said.
DelDonno said she believed marijuana is re-emerging nationally as mainstream which in turn, is increasing its availability on campus. She cited as an example the newly mainstream “weed rapper” Wiz Khalifa.
“His single ‘Black and Yellow’, his label signing, sold out concerts, all started after he released ‘Kush and Orange Juice,’” she said.
Wiz Khalifa’s mixtape “Kush and Orange Juice,” about smoking kush, a type of marijuana, and drinking orange juice, was the top search topic on Google and the top trending topic on Twitter for three days straight when it was released in April 2010. Its immense popularity led him to sign a record deal with Atlantic Records.
His first single on a major label, “Black and Yellow,” has recently become the number one selling song on the iTunes hip hop charts and is number 10 on the Billboard Top 50 Hip Hop and R&B charts.
All that success, said DelDonno, was contingent upon an audience accepting and supporting a mixtape all about marijuana. Her fellow resident assistant said she wasn’t buying that explanation though.
Kavanah said the real reason the numbers have gone up is that more users are getting caught, not because an increase in the number of pot smokers.
“I think it’s more likely that there has been an increase in the cracking down on drug violations over the past couple of years,” said Kavanah. Or, she added, since many users see signs of weed returning to the mainstream, they were becoming “more complacent and less sneaky about it which is getting them caught.”
“College kids have been experimenting with drugs since forever and nothing will change that,” she said. “But I still have to do my job and report it, even if it is popular.”