Cougars for Cannabis Club Stirs Debate on Campus
Club seeks to create discourse on cannabis policy, but some students say it's not appropriate for the college.
The club’s goal is to create discourse on cannabis policy and to advocate for decriminalization and regulation of marijuana. They plan to organize voter-registration and petition drives and work with NORML, the national nonprofit working to change marijuana laws.
But the club’s very existence on campus has been the subject of debate for several months.
Administrators say free speech laws under the constitution mean the group has the right to exist as a club on campus, despite how objectionable some might find its goals.
But several students don’t think this club should have a place in St. Charles Community College.
Jon Bennett, a student at the college, and a member of the St. Charles County Republican Central Committee, says he understands what the college's legal counsel has to say about free speech. He says he'd rather not pay part of an activity fee that supports this club.
“There comes a time when they say, 'OK counselor, I understand what we’re saying, but we’re going to take control of our campus,'” he said. “I’m paying a student activity fee that’s being transferred over to a club to legalize pot. They don’t even allow alcohol on campus.”
Student Senate Denies Application
Any student can petition to form a club if they have at least eight members currently attending the school, write a constitution and find a sponsor. Clubs in good standing receive $500 each semester from Student Activities and can apply for up to $5,000 a year from the Student Activities Funds Committee. The Student Activities budget is funded through student tuition, 50 cents for each credit hour.
Duell Lauderdale organized Cougars for Cannabis and brought it before the Student Senate for consideration. After debating the issue for three meetings this spring, the Student Senate voted “by a wide margin” against approving the club, according to incoming Student Senate President Victoria Smith.
Eddie O’Neil, Student Senate secretary, said many people came to the meeting with preconceived notions about the club.
“Voting it down defeated the purpose of having a public forum,” about marijuana use, he said.
Cougars for Cannabis Club Wins Appeal
Club organizers appealed the decision to Dean of Student Development Yvette Sweeny, who made a recommendation to Chris Breitmeyer, Vice President of Acdemic and Student Affairs. Breitmeyer decided to approve the club.
In a memo to Breitmeyer, Sweeny cited advice from legal counsel, problems with the way the Student Senate parlimentarian ran the meeting and two U.S. Supreme Court cases that dealt with the First Amendment issues at the collegiate level.
Discussion is part of higher education and it's part of the culture of higher education, Sweeny said.
"No one is allowed to use cannabis on our campus," she said. "We clarified that first. Their ability to discuss and to investigate whether our federal policies are still practical and reasonable, that's just like any other law they'd be talking about whether it's our civil rights laws or our constitutional process, this fits right in with free speech."
Incoming Student Senate President Victoria Smith, 41, who served as parlimentarian for Student Senate this semester, was against giving the group club status, in part because they could then access to funding from the college.
“My biggest concern is we’re situated in a considerably conservative community and we’re in the middle of a deficit,” she said. “My fear is that once the community understands what’s on our campus, support will dry up, in terms of private contributions.”
Smith, who is a returning student studying child psychology, said she sees her job as keeping kids safe.
“Why would you want to support something that’s illegal?” she said. “Where does it stop?”
Cougars for Cannabis Club Historian Sean Merkle says they won’t be doing anything illegal as a club.
“Because this is a student organization, we will do our best to ensure there is no breaking of rules,” Merkle said. “We respect the rules of this campus."
Smith will take over officially as the new president of the Student Senate on May 10. She said she’s not sure what the next steps will be. “Is there any appeal to the appeal?” she said.
In any case, the Cougars for Cannabis Club will have to abide by the rules of the Student Senate Constitution, said Smith. If the club does not there’s a process by which it could have its funding revoked, and an appeal process to get funding back.
However, those rules may be changing. The former Student Senate President Jared Streiler appointed a group of three people to consider whether the constitution should be amended over the summer.
What do you think about the college's decision?
Let us know: Should Community College Recognize Cannabis Club?