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Senators Poised To Wage Pot Fight


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A new crop of undergraduate student senators was voted into office yesterday, and a handful of them are poised to push a reduction of drug penalties through the university's most powerful policy-making body next year.

Anastacia Cosner, president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, campaigned on her desire to see penalties for marijuana use reduced from an A-level violation according to the Code of Student Conduct to a B-level violation, essentially putting it on par with the penalties students receive for on-campus alcohol consumption. She said she will be will be preparing to address the issue next fall.

Some of the new senators have already said they plan on supporting her cause when she submits a formal proposal. Their initiative will likely include an education campaign to inform faculty and staff on an issue that has become popular among students but controversial among administrators, Lewis said.

The issue has gained momentum since a Student Government Associate referendum that last year found 65 percent of the 4,376 students who voted in their election supported more lenient penalties. Since then, Cosner has led the issue through the Residence Hall Association- which last month passed legislation to lower pot penalties in dorms - and has lobbied delegates to support it.

As the Department of Resident Life decides the legislation's fate in the coming weeks, Cosner has pressured administrators to acceptthem. And her influence is beginning to spread with her fellow senators-elect.

"It's not a big deal," said junior psychology major Jason Lewis, who was elected to represent the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. "We don't need to start pulling students off to jail for small marijuana possession. The police should have plenty of other things to deal with."

"Although the university has a responsibility to uphold the law, there seems to be no compelling need for them to pile on extra penalties," added junior philosophy major Greg Johnson, who was elected from the College of Arts and Humanities.

Still, the proposal doesn't have complete support from all the new senators.

"Regardless of how I feel about marijuana use, it's still an illegal substance," said junior communications and sociology major Melissa Morales of ARHU.

Lewis acknowledges that it will be an uphill battle to convince the faculty and staff members of the senate, who make up a majority of the roughly 140-member body. Students will need the help of SSDP and NORML if they are to enact a change in university policy. Some student issues are caught up the senate for years.

"It's a decisive issue, but 65 percent of the student population wanted it," Lewis said.

Cosner cautions, however, that a rally for reduced pot penalties is still a ways off.

"I don't think I would even think about writing a marijuana proposal until next year," said Cosner.

Until fall she plans on spending her time getting acquainted with senate procedures and other student issues, including a proposal that would subject students who receive probation before judgment in court to university sanctions, including expulsion or suspension.

Students from ten colleges and a part-time student were also elected to the senate. Only one school's election results went unresolved: The Journalism school's election ended in a runoff.

One of Lewis' pet issues, he says, will be making the school more environmentally friendly with more renewable energy sources and efforts to bring more campus buildings up to national environmental standards.

Other senators focused on reviving old senate issues that have yet to be resolved.

Johnson said he hoped to examine the university's policy on plus-minus grading - which the senate has yet to settle after passing it last year, only to have the provost ask them to re-examine the issue.

The debate on the university's policy toward transgender students and staff could also be revived, said senior economics and finance major Roberto Munster, who was elected yesterday from the Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Each student senator at the university represents around 1,000 undergraduate students, so senators' ability to advocate on students' behalf depends on their ability to work with one another and to convince faculty members - 95 in total - to support their resolutions.

Lewis wants new and current student senators to work together to hammer out an organized plan to get a high number of student issues addressed.

"We need to work as a group," said Lewis. "And that's how we're going to gain power."

Lewis said he also wants to resume the fight to increase the number of student seats on the senate - which was bumped up last year.

"It's a fight that deserves to be reiterated every year," he said.

Newshawk: CoZmO - 420Magazine.com
Source: Diamondback Online (Maryland)
Author: Nathan Cohen, Ben Slivnick
Contact: cohendbk@gmail.com
Copyright: 2007 The Diamondback
Website: The Diamondback
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