For many students at UC Irvine, marijuana provides an escape from the stress of daily life. Some think of marijuana as a relatively harmless recreation and a way to relax.
‘Smoking marijuana is something I enjoy,’ said one student who wishes to remain anonymous. ‘It’s a lifestyle, a way of thinking and a way of looking at the world.’
‘I find that when I’m high, I’m much more innovative than usual,’ another student said. ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if billionaire entrepreneurs smoked a lot to help them think.’
Perhaps the most accurate estimate of how many UCI students smoke marijuana comes from the Health Education Center, which reports that 31 percent of UCI students have used it in the past month.
Though it may be common on campus, marijuana possession is illegal and, if caught, students will be prosecuted.
‘If you are caught with less than an ounce of marijuana, the first arrest is a misdemeanor,’ said Lt. Shaun Devlin of the UCI Police Department. ‘You will get a monetary fine and, depending on the judge, you will probably have to perform community service or attend a drug-education program.’
Supporters and opponents of marijuana use disagree about its potential health concerns.
The Drug Enforcement Agency reports that marijuana use may cause respiratory infections, impaired memory and learning, increased heart rate, anxiety and panic attacks.
The Vaults of Erowid, a Web site regarded by many marijuana users as an unbiased source of drug information, also reports some similar side-effects.
Though marijuana is not physically addictive like some other drugs, certain people are at high risk of becoming psychologically dependent.
‘It is a misconception among many people that marijuana is not addictive,’ Devlin said. ‘I have seen some people who say that they are addicted to marijuana. They have tried to stop, but they can’t.’
According to Erowid, between 5 and 10 percent of people who use marijuana once will become daily users at some point during their lives.
Marijuana is often cited as a carcinogen but such claims are largely unsubstantiated, though marijuana smoke contains some of the same chemicals as tobacco smoke.
In addition to marijuana’s reputed health problems, it is also sometimes considered a ‘gateway drug,’ meaning that it might lead casual smokers to use more dangerous drugs in the future.
People who use marijuana early in life are eight times more likely to use cocaine and 15 times more likely to use heroin, according to the DEA.
However, a cause-and-effect relationship between marijuana use and subsequent use of other drugs has not been proven, and skeptics argue that both may be caused by other factors.
Many marijuana users do not believe that marijuana use interferes with their schoolwork.
‘It’s all about a balance,’ said one student who smokes marijuana almost every day. ‘Marijuana can take over if you let it. It can interfere with everything or you can balance it. I don’t let it get in the way of schoolwork.’
Another student reported getting better grades after increasing his marijuana use, which he attributed to his ‘arguments becoming more profound.’
The UCIPD tries to cut down on marijuana use by using enforcement as a deterrent.
‘We get calls from the dorms from people who say that they smell marijuana,’ Devlin said. ‘It has a very distinct smell and it’s hard to mistake for anything else. An officer will also look for physical signs, such as bloodshot eyes or an appearance of being dazed and confused.’
According to Devlin, police are especially concerned with eliminating drug dealers from campus.
‘When we cite someone for using marijuana, we’ll try to ask them where they got it,’ Devlin said. ‘We don’t want students who haven’t smoked before to start just because marijuana is available on campus.’
The students interviewed for this article declined to give information about their sources of marijuana, but one said, ‘There are dealers on campus but I generally go elsewhere.’
In 2003, the UCIPD made 36 arrests on campus for drug violations. This is up from 16 arrests in 2001 and 15 in 2002.
Some students who use marijuana said that the threat of police action is not a big concern to them. One student said that he has had off-campus encounters with police who ‘[took] the marijuana, stomped it out on the street, and walked away.’
State budget cuts will likely have a detrimental effect on officers’ ability to monitor marijuana use because less officers will be out in the field, according to Devlin.
Devlin urged students to pursue legal means of getting pleasurable sensations like those caused by marijuana.
‘There are other ways to get a natural high,’ Devlin said. ‘You can go jogging. You can go to the gym. You can go surfing.’