College administrators seeing more problems associated with increased marijuana use, survey finds

By Diane Lederman
While many people including students view marijuana as safe, college administrators are seeing problems associated with its use, according to survey results released Tuesday by the MassINC Polling Group. The group has offices in Northampton and Boston.

Americans view marijuana as safer than alcohol and other drugs, and an increasing number of states are legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational uses, according to the survey. Massachusetts voters approved recreational marijuana legalization in November of 2016, with shops set to open in July of 2018. It will be illegal, however, to use marijuana on college campuses because federal laws apply.

The survey found that problems associated with increased marijuana use included issues with academic performance, decreased motivation and mental health issues.

According to the results, about 79 percent of administrators believe that colleges "should implement policies and programs to effectively reduce marijuana use among college students." But only a third think their campus "is putting a great deal or a fair amount of emphasis on the issue." Also, the survey found that "there are wide gaps in opinion between different administrative roles on campus. Health, residence, and safety officials are much more aware of issues around marijuana than those in academic or student affairs administration."

The survey was sponsored by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the Mary Christie Foundation and distributed with the help of the National Association of System Heads and conducted by the MassINC Polling Group. These results are based on a national online survey of college campus administrators conducted Sept. 6 to Oct. 3. A total of 744 administrators offered responses, and 523 completed the survey.

When a student is found to have marijuana on campus, the most common response is disciplinary action, usually probation for the first offense, according to the survey. The survey reported that education and counseling were much less common.

"For problem users, the most common campus response was referral to off-campus treatment," MassINC found. "That may be because the large majority of administrators reported their campus had no physicians."

Officials in all capacities are interested in more training, according to the survey.

University of Massachusetts researchers, meanwhile, have begun a one-year study to assess the level of marijuana use in the state before legal sales of the drug for recreational use begin. The UMass study is designed to "provide public health officials, legislators and others with information to assess baseline rates and patterns of marijuana use, related risk behaviors such as use in combination with alcohol, prescription drugs and impaired driving," according to a press release.