Chasing smoke

Marijuana arrest data reflect the rise in national legalization efforts. IUPD aim to keep up.



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Marijuana is not an uncommon sight on college campuses. Due to increasing legalization and destigmatization campus police deal with marijuana calls on a much more regular basis than previous years. Since 2011, IUPD drug violation arrests have increased by 34 percent. Grayson Harbour and Photo Illustration by Grayson Harbour Buy Photos

The strong smell of a misdemeanor wafted from the top floor of the fraternity house toward Third Street and into the window of Officer Nick Lewis’ white Dodge Charger.

Lewis circled the row of greek “Third Street Elite” houses, searching for the smell.

He drove through the fraternity’s parking lot, but could not find evidence of anyone smoking weed.

Marijuana is becoming legal in more and more places around the country. One place that it is not legal, despite its ?influence, is Indiana.

Since 2011, drug violation arrests by the IU Police Department have increased by 34 percent, while alcohol violation arrests have dropped 25 percent, according to the most recent Clery Report.

But only 23 percent of calls to campus dorms result in arrests. Cops take too long to show up. The smell dissipates.

As legalization spreads, the attitude toward marijuana, even in southern Indiana, is changing. Law enforcement is just trying to keep up.

“It’s coming from legal locations now,” said Craig Munroe, IUPD public resources officer. “It’s a bigger problem than ?alcohol.”

On his third drive past the fraternity, Lewis slowed to 10 miles per hour, sniffing the air.

Walking down a dorm room floor, it’s easy to determine which room smells like smoke. But with big fraternity houses and other campus buildings, such as the one Lewis was circling, it’s harder to narrow down where the smell is coming from.

“Unless they have a big bong in the window and they’re looking right at me as they’re smoking, I can’t get a warrant.”

***

Oct. 2, 2014

10 p.m.

Read Center, Clark Hall

Seven knocks on the door.

“Police, open up,” Lewis said. “We’re here for the odor of marijuana.”

A freshman opened the door, slowly.

“I’ll make it easy on you,” the 18-year-old said, inviting Lewis to a messy dorm room desk where a pipe lay next to .6 grams of weed spread evenly into ?two joints.

Jarin Thiem is from San Diego, where marijuana first became legal for medicinal use in 1996, the year he was born.

“I know in California it’s pretty easy to get legally out there,” another arresting officer said to Thiem, waving the pipe in the air.

“But here, not yet.”

Thiem received a B-misdemeanor charge, followed by a citation. Then, a few days later, a note home to mom and dad in San Diego printed on IU ?letterhead.

After the officers left the Clark Wing of Read Hall, Thiem lost it.

He raced to the gas station to buy a pack of American Spirits, which he promptly chain-smoked. Twelve huffed cigarettes and rattled phone conversations later, Thiem began to process what had just happened.

“It’s something no one wants to go through,” Thiem said. “I’m afraid of the police.”

Thiem has been playing bassoon for almost 10 years. He was accepted into IU’s classical performance program and moved here to study at the Jacobs School of Music.

He is one of the 52 percent of Americans ages 18 to 25 who say they have tried marijuana, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. And he comes from one of the 23 states where marijuana is legal. He says it helps him avoid prescription pills for anxiety and depression.

“It slows my brain down instead of me firing on all circuits,” Thiem said. “If there’s a problem, I can confront and deal with it in a better way. It makes everything easier to process.”

During this year’s Welcome Week, IU welcomed 230 California-based students, according to IU’s Enrollment Report.

All 50 states are represented in IU’s student body, establishing direct connections between IU’s campus and the states that have legalized the drug.

The World Health Organization ranks the United States first among 17 European and North American countries for prevalence of marijuana use.

Indiana has some of the harshest marijuana criminalization laws. Someone in possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana faces up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. Senate Bill 284 proposes a state medical marijuana program and the creation of a Department of Marijuana Enforcement. The bill has been assigned to the Health and Provider Services Committee and awaits hearing.

***

Officer Lewis says he has never tried marijuana. However, he does his best to place himself in the mind and hearts of the kids ?who do.

“You go on a call and you might not be able to relate to what they’re going through, but you need to try to,” Lewis said. “Listening, that’s important. I do a lot of listening.”

Not too long before he was Officer Lewis patrolling IU’s campus, he was in charge of Army communications in Afghanistan.

Wars are violent, he said. Weed, not so much.

In his four years with IUPD, he’s never dealt with violence or hospitalization as a result of marijuana use.

“Whereas with alcohol, that happens on a weekly basis,” Lewis said.

Though alcohol might be more dangerous than marijuana, underage drinking and binge drinking are easier to get away with than pot smoking.

As far as marijuana goes, Thiem, the Read Center resident, thinks IUPD officers should use morals, not the laws, to guide their judgment.

“Our government has its priorities in the wrong places,” Thiem said. “Police don’t have to enforce what they don’t want. Technically it’s their job to do it, but I feel that they should have more integrity than just doing their jobs.”

Lewis can smell marijuana’s pungent odor from down the hall, if it hasn’t already dissipated by the time he arrives.

What does it smell like?

“Skunk,” sophomore and former Foster Quad resident Nikki Naiman said. “And I would know. I’m from ?Colorado.”

Back home, it’s normal for Naiman to smell and see marijuana everywhere. Indiana’s “hush hush” culture around the drug was very surprising, Naiman said.

“It’s literally a weed,” Naiman said. “It’s always seemed like not a big deal to me, but I think people forget that it’s still illegal in some places.”

***

IU drug counselor Jackie Daniels tries not to be ?judgmental.

Once, she was a timid freshman at IU, unclear of what she wanted to do with her life. She found friends who introduced her to marijuana, which she says lifted her anxiety and gave her the social life she desired.

But her anxiety and depression worsened, and pot led to abusing painkillers.

Daniels suffered a mental breakdown during her senior year.

Instead of graduating, she went to a treatment facility, where she confronted her mental health and realized the dangers of a seemingly benign college party culture.

Now, as director of the Office of Alternative Screening and Information Services, IU’s alcohol and drug information center, she counsels students who are like herself at that age.

Students caught by IUPD with less than 30 grams can choose counseling instead of ?drug court.

“We focus on harm reduction,” Daniels said. “We meet students where they are, as opposed to where we want them to be.”

Scare tactics don’t work, she said.

“We ask students how they want to change, how marijuana fits into their plan at IU,” Daniels said. “Our perspective is pretty balanced. We ask why students are in college in the first place.”

Under the pretrial diversion program, Thiem had to pay a $350 fine and take a $55 class.

“If students have licenses in other states or a medicinal carry card, we’re not going to initially try to change that person,” Daniels said, adding that until marijuana is legal at the federal level, it would be impossible to smoke legally on IU’s campus anyway, since the school receives ?federal money.

At OASIS, Daniels urges students to protest not with defiance of the rules but with political action. For example, students could campaign and vote for politicians who advocate for ?legalization.

“I want students to be able to put their money where their mouth is and not just sit back and complain and smoke their dope,” Daniels said. “That’s not being engaged.”

She doesn’t fully support legalization herself — at least not yet.

“I’m allowing myself to be a work in progress about my opinions about marijuana,” Daniels said. “Based on our facts, I don’t think we can say that marijuana is without risk and without harm.”

Sophomore Brian Kim attended OASIS last year after being cited for underage drinking in Teter Quad. When he attended pretrial diversion, he said out of the roughly 20 students ?present, he was the only person there because of alcohol. Everyone else had charges of either paraphernalia, possession or consumption of marijuana.

“I was really confused ... I was doing what was ‘more legal,’” Kim said, adding that his citation fine was a few hundred dollars more than the other students’. “That’s when I kind of knew that weed was more prevalent on campus.”

Kim paid a total of $550 for his .18 Blood Alcohol Content level.

Kim said weed seems to not be considered a real drug on IU’s campus.

***

Back on patrol, Lewis received another marijuana call to McNutt Quad, the second call that night.

He and two other officers greeted five Florida-based residents, all of whom appeared to be using.

“It’s coffee grinds,” one of the five boys said.

“Doesn’t smell like coffee grinds,” said an officer holding a small plastic bag of weed in one hand and a pipe in the other.

No one fessed up.

“If I had to guess whose marijuana this is ...” Lewis said, pointing to and looking knowingly at one of ?the kids.

“No,” the student said, running his hands through his light blond hair. “This would be my second ?offense.”

Lewis gets to know four to five students each year by face from second shift marijuana calls, he said.

“No one really apologizes for their marijuana use,” Lewis said. “That’s the culture, as more and more states are legalizing it.”

***

IU is a school where “fun things happen,” said sophomore and Foster Hall President Anne-Therese Ryan.

And it’s a school where indifferent attitudes toward weed culture won’t go away.

“I’m sure some people don’t feel remorseful,” Ryan said. “I would assume that most people who get caught will continue to smoke marijuana, since it’s becoming legal in most places. And they’ll keep doing it until it is legal here.”

Ryan’s colleagues have been “cracking down” on marijuana use this year, which could explain why in the fall semester, Foster Hall led the other dorms by about 20 IUPD marijuana calls, but this semester has dropped to the second-highest in incidents.

Maybe the students have been learning that if they smoke, they’ll get caught. Or, RAs could be becoming more lax on calling the cops, Ryan said.

IUPD’s response time for dorm room marijuana calls is usually 15 minutes. Roughly 23 percent of dorm marijuana calls result in arrests, according to this semester’s crime log data.

“It’s a waste of everyone’s time,” Ryan said. “The RAs are wasting their time writing reports and also wasting the police officers’ time.”

Dorm calls never feel like a waste of time to ?Officer Lewis.

“I wish they didn’t feel that way,” Lewis said. “If they feel like something needs to be taken care of, then it’s our job to come out and help.”

Across the street in McNutt, which has seen the highest volume of calls this semester at 25 calls, Julia Luka’s floor “always smells” like marijuana.

“Weed is just as prevalent at the college party scene,” Luka said. “Because it’s becoming more accepted around the country, people are getting looser with it.”

A freshman from Downers Grove, Ill., Luka was surprised at how nonchalant students were with their marijuana use.

“It surprised me more seeing kids smoking more in the courtyard of McNutt,” Luka said.

RAs usually notice, ?Ryan said.

Perhaps it is the smokers’ indifferent attitudes that lead to the obvious signs of illegal activity: a cracked window when it’s 30 degrees outside or loud music coming from one room on a school night.

While some of her coworkers follow protocol and immediately call the police at the smell of smoke, Ryan prefers a more gentle ?approach.

Ryan often finds herself counseling residents. If a student chooses to confide in her, she won’t pick up the phone and call the cops but will instead use the interaction as an opportunity to raise awareness of the ?dangers of marijuana.

“Not only is marijuana illegal, but it could damage the property,” Ryan said, adding that smoking damages the walls and can be a fire hazard. “We like to tell people that this is your home. Be respectful of it.”

* * *

Thiem crosses his legs in the Clark Wing lounge in Read Center. His hair is now bright blue and sticks straight up in a 4-inch ?Mohawk.

It’s March, and five months have passed since his arrest.

“I have a concert a week from tomorrow,” Thiem said Monday. He plays in a symphonic concert band.

“Well, I think, am I getting the date right on that, babe?” Thiem turns to his girlfriend, Emily Warren, who is also a bassoon player in Jacobs.

She nods.

As of Friday, March 20, Them is off of IU Academic Probation.

He is still on probation with the Bloomington Police Department.

Warren is from Hopkinton, Mass., across the country from Thiem’s California home.

“Polar opposites!” Thiem and Warren say together.

Massachusetts, like California, has legalized marijuana for medicinal use.

A fair share of contemplation regarding his school choice followed the arrest. He filled out transfer applications for California schools.

Time has softened ?the blow.

“I’m pretty much over ?it now.”

Since the arrest, Thiem says he has become much closer with his RA. He has also slowed his pot use ?at IU.

“It’s not habitual anymore,” Thiem said. “When I’m back home and I have my medical card, it’s ?different.”

The arrest prompted a heightened awareness of, and respect for, the state he now calls home.

“I don’t want to put myself at risk anymore.”

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