GVSU sees rise in drug charges and drop in liquor violations

Ryan Jarvi

Liquor law violations for 13 of Michigan’s public universities have dropped over the past few years, but drug law violations are on the rise.

Grand Valley State University had 24 on-campus arrests for drug violations in 2007, and in 2011 there were 63—an increase of 162.5 percent, according to data collected from the website of the Office of Postsecondary Education.

Meanwhile, liquor violations at GVSU have dropped from 241 to 165 over the same period—a 31.5 percent decrease.

Other four-year public universities throughout the state have shown similar trends. For the 13 universities examined, drug violations totaled 474 in 2007 and climbed to 727 in 2011 for an increase of 53.4 percent. Liquor violations have gone down from the 2007 total of 2,467 to 1,987 in 2011 for a 19.4 percent decrease.

“It’s very difficult in a college or university to identify trends,” said Capt. Brandon DeHaan, assistant director of the of the Grand Valley Police Department. “Part of that is our population changes around so much.”

With students leaving the institution and the arrival of new freshmen and transfer students, GVSU’s population could change 15 to 20 percent every year, DeHaan said. Looking at substance use in high schools can give an idea of what may carry over into college.

Alcohol use in teens had reached historically low levels in 2012, with 28.1 percent of twelfth-graders reporting they had gotten drunk in the past month, according to the website for the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The website also reported a rise in marijuana use and a decrease of perceived risk.
“I think it would be fair to say that some of that translates into our community as well,” DeHaan said. “We have seen a bit of a change, and that change is specific to an increase in drug offenses, and part of that, the greatest share is marijuana.”

The GVPD, Alcohol Campus Education and Services, the Dean of Students office and Housing and Residence Life have all done a good job of messaging the health concerns of substance abuse and underage drinking, DeHaan said, but there has been weaker messaging for marijuana throughout the state.

“Marijuana has been softened in the minds of people in the state of Michigan,” DeHaan said. “People are identifying it, and we’re seeing individuals saying, ‘well, marijuana is a medicine and therefore it must be okay to consume, it’s not that bad of a substance,’ so people consume it.”

Last year, voters of Grand Rapids passed a measure to decriminalize marijuana, but the plant is still illegal under federal law. In 2008, marijuana was approved for medicinal purposes in Michigan, but because the university receives federal funding, it is still illegal at GVSU for registered patients to use it.

For drugs outside of alcohol and marijuana, people know very little about the short-term effects and almost nothing about the long-term effects, DeHaan said. Prescription drugs have also become more noticeable on campus, which could result in felony charges for an offender.

“It is a crime to possess or use prescription drugs that are not prescribed to you,” DeHaan said. “We as a police department here are concerned with the health of our students, (and) with the overconsumption and abuse of any of these products.”

Though drug violations are on the rise, alcohol is still the No. 1 offense on campus, he said. The police department has seen higher intoxication levels and a shift in drinking patterns from consumption of beer and wine coolers to grain alcohol.

“This is not a dry campus,” DeHaan said. Tailgating is allowed, and alcohol is permitted in apartments for individuals over 21. However, it is prohibited in freshmen living centers.

“We’re concerned with the behaviors that are associated with the overconsumption of alcohol,” DeHaan said, which can lead to larceny, malicious behavior, destruction of property and assaultive behavior. Substance abuse can also affect relationships, mental health and an individual’s ability to function.

“For people who are consuming marijuana on a regular basis, a lot of those same issues are manifested,” DeHaan said.

Regular use of substances by individuals can increase tolerance, which means you have to ingest more to achieve the effect, said Eric Klingensmith, coordinator of the Alcohol Campus and Education office at GVSU.

“Alcohol is a drug, it changes the way our brain works, (and) marijuana is a drug that changes the way our brain works,” Klingensmith said. “You’re putting something in your body that is a drug. If you’re abusing it there are going to be side effects.”

In addition to health effects, someone who has been caught consuming marijuana can receive a misdemeanor charge and sentenced to a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $100 fine. Those charged with possession could receive a misdemeanor charge resulting in a maximum of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine. Individuals may also lose access to federal loans.

A first-time offender charged with a minor in possession of alcohol can be fined up to $100 and may be required to perform community service and attend substance abuse assessment and treatment services at the individual’s own expense.

If an individual is charged with use or possession of substances on campus, information is sent to the prosecutor’s office and adjudicated through the court system, DeHaan said. In addition, the police department sends a referral to the Dean of Students office for anyone in violation of the student code.

DeHaan doesn’t know what the future holds, but he doesn’t see the use of these products changing in the near future.

“Health and safety is our number one concern,” he said. “We will continue to engage college students.”

Not everyone on campus uses substances, but for those that do, the data only reflects the number of students that have been caught, Klingensmith said.

Any students seeking help with substance use or abuse are encouraged to visit the Counseling and Career Center.

“As a student you get that for free and you might as well take advantage of that,” Klingensmith said. “Come in, sit down and we’ll figure out if this is a problem or not.”

For more information about counseling services, visit www.gvsu.edu/counsel.

To view campus crime reports, visit ope.ed.gov/security.
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