reefer madness

In the movie "True

Romance," Brad

Pitt portrays a character named Floyd who lies around on the couch all day smoking marijuana, and is pestered once in a while by Sicilian mobsters.

In Tucson, there is a real-life Floyd who often lies around on the couch all day smoking marijuana, and is pestered once in a while by classes at the University of Arizona.

"Some weekdays," Floyd says, "I'll wake up at nine o'clock in the morning, go to class, come home from school at like four o'clock, look at my stuff you know, study pack a couple of bowls, go hang out with friends, come back, take a shower, smoke a couple more bowls, and stay in all night and just pass bowls around."

A bowl is anything you smoke marijuana out of other than paper. It contains, generally, a portion of marijuana equal to the size of a die.

Despite his frequent use, Floyd's life does not revolve around marijuana. A 20-year-old molecular and cellular biology junior, Floyd stays involved on campus, gets respectable grades, and has an active social life that includes Mary, his girlfriend who smokes as much, if not more, marijuana than he does.

Mary, 22, a history senior, says she sits down to smoke one to three times per day, seven days a week, but added that "one sitting could be like five hours."

Floyd and Mary aren't the only UA students that use marijuana. According to a core drug and alcohol survey conducted by the UA in May 1994, 15 percent of the students polled had used marijuana in the past 30 days. Thirty percent of the students had used marijuana at least once in the past year.

The survey was handed out to about 1,000 students in randomly selected classes, 942 of whom responded. The students were given the option to respond to the survey or not, says Carolyn Collins, an educator with Student Health Services. Student Health Service has a project evaluator on staff and who determines methodology for surveys.

To some, 15 percent isn't very high.

"Eighty-five percent say they haven't used it in the last 30 days I'd say based on those numbers then it's not a huge problem," Collins says. "In other words, take this approach: whereas 15 percent have used it in the past 30 days, 85 percent haven't. I think where it becomes a problem is where that use gets into a habitual problem where they're smoking all day long all week."

However, the

survey could be

misleading because of the small sample of students surveyed.

"I've met random people through class that smoke pot and that I've ended up smoking pot with before," Mary says. "In fact, I have yet to meet somebody, at least in the past year, who has not smoked pot."

Of course, there are non-users. But even they seem to have little or no problem with marijuana. In fact, the consensus among the several non-marijuana-smoking students interviewed for this story indicated that they did not care about the drug one way or the other.

"I just don't use it myself," says Hector Martinez, a business and marketing senior. "I mean, I don't see the point in it. But if other people use it, I'm not going to say, 'Oh, that's bad.'"

The few students interviewed who did have strong feelings against it or do not smoke marijuana because of fear of arrest said they were uncomfortable about being used as a source and refused to comment.

A president of a

UA fraternity,

who spoke on condition of anonymity, says most people will not admit to being against it these days.

"No one wants to come out against pot because it's not a badly damaging drug, and right now it's a very popular thing," he says. "If you come out against pot, it's frowned upon, kind of. You lose a lot of popularity points. I do think it's wrong, but I don't care if other people do it. It just doesn't do anything for me."

Despite its popularity, marijuana use is prohibited by law.

In 1994, the UA police department handled 104 drug violations, Assistant Chief Harry Hueston says. UAPD does not keep specific records for marijuana violations.

"However, the vast majority of violations seem to be marijuana or marijuana-related, and when I say marijuana-related we're talking about (finding and/or confiscating) water bongs or other types of pipes. We do get some crack, some cocaine, and we get some hits of acid, but the majority of drug violations are for marijuana."

A bong, or water bong, is usually a glass, wooden or plastic tube containing water that marijuana is smoked out of. A bong cools the heat from the flame, and filters, or "softens," the smoke.

In addition, the department responds to a large number of calls from either campus residence hall assistants or their residents regarding marijuana-related incidents, Hueston says. UAPD does not keep records on marijuana-related violations in residence halls.

The problem is not restricted to dormitories. Hueston says UAPD also responds to incidents at Greek houses, on the Mall literally anywhere on campus.

"The difference comes when we deal with an incident inside a residence hall the RA is involved," Hueston says. "Police take the same action whether it's in the hall or out on the street. The difference occurs is when the residence hall takes a second type of action or when a fraternity polices itself in drug incidents."

The number of incidents in residence halls is high because there are a large number of halls, not because on-campus residents use more marijuana, he says.

"Any time you see that many residence halls, there is the potential for incidents," Hueston says. "I don't know if I'd say the majority of cases involve dorms, but a lot do."

Residence Life staff members have been instructed to call UAPD if they have reason to believe that there is marijuana or drug paraphernalia in a certain room, says Jim Van Arsdel, director of Residence Life and university housing. Once an officer arrives, university staff must comply with his or her instructions, Van Arsdel says.

Hall administration deals with each case on an individual basis, says Eddie Hull, associate director of Residence Life. Residents caught with marijuana aren't always kicked out of the hall.

"I personally have problems with the severity to which marijuana is prosecuted on campus, especially in relation to alcohol," says a resident assistant at Apache-Santa Cruz Residence Hall, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It seems to me that alcohol is addictive and a lot of people get very belligerent with alcohol. It seems from my experience that marijuana users keep to themselves and don't cause much trouble.

"But even though I don't agree with the laws of the campus, I do have to enforce them, and if I had to enforce them, I would definitely feel unjust doing so."

The offenders also face state narcotics laws. Marijuana penalties vary according to the drug's weight, but most students fall into the category of recreational users, possessing less than two pounds.

Possessing marijuana is a felony, but if the weight is less than two pounds it is usually prosecuted as a misdemeanor, says Guy Keenan, Pima County deputy attorney. Possession of drug paraphernalia is also a felony, but the charge usually is waived down to a misdemeanor if no drugs are found.

The minimum penalty for possession in Pima County is a $750 fine, plus a 57 percent surcharge. The maximum penalty is a $2,500 fine, six months in jail and 36 months of probation.

Many marijuana users, including Floyd and Mary, say that marijuana is considerably less dangerous than other drugs, such as cocaine, heroin or LSD.

University Medical Center doesn't have readily available records on the number of drug overdoses it has treated, says George Humphrey, the associate director of public affairs for the Arizona Health Sciences Center, but said he has not heard of a case in which someone was admitted for a marijuana overdose.

Tamara DeGiovanni, a pharmacist at the Arizona Health Sciences poison control center, says the center got a call a few weeks ago about a teenager who smoked marijuana and then needed medical treatment.

"It is possible that someone could be really out of it after smoking marijuana," DeGiovanni says. "The thing is, other drugs could have been involved. But it is very possible for someone to get really tired, really out of it, and just very sedate. A person not used to that could get really scared and end up in the emergency room."

However, she added that the center probably gets a lot more calls involving people who drink too much alcohol.

Floyd's eyes are glazed over and he is reclining back in his queen-sized bed. It has been about an hour and 20 minutes since he last took a hit from his 2-foot bong, but he says that he still is under the influence.

He has a lot of studying to do tonight and he says he may do some of it once Mary comes over.

"I've done it before," he says, "but on a whole, I try not to. If it's not a pressing thing (the studying I need to do), like if I don't have a test the next day, I can see myself getting high."

He doesn't have a test the next day. But in three days, he has an exam, and the day after that, another one.

There is a knock at the door, and Mary comes in. She sits down by the sliding glass door in Floyd's room and lights up a cigarette.

It's like any other evening, but Mary says she thinks that someday, things might change.

"I'm probably not going to smoke it forever," she says. "If someone told me tomorrow that I had to quit, that it was going to kill me, I could definitely quit. But no one's going to do that, right? So, why should I stop?"

Some of the names used in this article have been changed.

Read Next Article