Cannabis is a contentious topic. It draws ire from those convinced it is the devil, or praise from others who medicate with it. In my dorm, not a day goes by in which my hall isn’t filled with the herbal aroma. It’s no wonder that Vassar students flock to the extraordinary plant. After all, there are numerous ways to consume it and seemingly infinite strains. It’s very user friendly. But this isn’t an advertisement for weed. Of course, consuming cannabis is a personal choice, and one must weigh the pros and cons before proceeding with the drug. On some recent starry nights, I interviewed two students and a Vassar employee about weed. On conditions of anonymity, we discussed their relationships with weed, the weed culture on campus and the drug’s ever-changing legal status.
If there’s one thing that students can agree on, it’s weed. At least that’s what the students told me. “There’s definitely a large percentage of the campus that’s very comfortable and kind of embraces this weed culture,” said one sophomore with confidence. “It’s definitely more present than at a lot of my friends’ colleges. I think that Vassar is also stereotyped as a ‘hippie-liberal,’ very weed-friendly place,” she explained. One junior interviewed remarked, “I feel like everyone smokes weed at Vassar. I don’t know that many people who don’t smoke on campus.”
But perhaps this culture is an imagined version of a few stoners’ dreams. The employee, who has worked at Vassar for less than a year, hasn’t noticed too much of a weed culture at Vassar. “I don’t walk around and think this is a pot school, but I have no idea,” she said.
COVID-19 restrictions have made large gatherings, where alcohol consumption is the norm, largely obsolete. In turn, some students, the interviewees say, are turning towards marijuana. To the sophomore, the restrictions dissuade her from drinking because she consumes alcohol at large social gatherings. “There’s no TH parties, so the social gatherings are more weed-friendly to me,” she explained.
The Vassar employee agrees that college is a formative time in one’s weed journey. Recalling her first year at a liberal arts college, she said, “It was time to spread my wings and just rip bong constantly. Then I got my freshman year grades back and was just like, ‘Oh shit, I’m definitely not a functioning stoner.’”
The novelty of the college experience and being away from home isn’t the only catalyst for cannabis consumption. With mandatory state and college quarantines lasting up to two weeks, it’s no wonder that people may want to pass the time with a little more zhoosh. Reminiscing over nostalgic memories, the employee chuckled. “If you’re bored, it makes anything a task. The movie turns into an Imax,” she said.
Returning to a quarantined campus was the perfect recipe for being chronically baked. Thanks to a staggered move-in, students were on campus for up to 17 days before classes started. This, coupled with freezing temperatures and snow, forced students inside most days. What does a 20-something college student do when they are trapped inside with no homework for multiple weeks on end? As the employee told me, “If you’re feeling under-stimulated it’s a great way to stimulate yourself.”
Of course, the pandemic has exacerbated existing and newfound mental health problems globally, and many have turned to weed for relief. According to a Sept. 2020 study of college students, 71 percent indicated increased stress and anxiety because of the pandemic. Beyond that, social isolation and disruption to sleep patterns have also increased among college students during these uncertain times. Unsurprisingly, marijuana consumption has also increased during the pandemic.
The students say they use marijuana to destress, sleep and generally lift spirits. The sophomore detailed her health benefits from smoking. “I first started upping my consumption as a response to depression and anxiety because it helps me a lot,” she explained. “I also use it to relax. I feel so much more positive.” Both students said they consume to combat the stress from the demanding college workload and pandemic-related mental pressures. The junior explained, “I’m stressed pretty often and high strung, so you know, [weed] helps. Sleep is a big one, too.”
The employee prefers CBD tincture and edibles because she’s worried about lung damage. “I’ve been consuming a lot of CBD, because I like athletics, and after a hard workout CBD is a way to give your muscles a little treat,” she described. “[I’m] trying to stay kind to the lungs, [so] edibles have been really great.”
All three also choose weed over alcohol consistently, citing myriad health benefits and lamenting the volatile effects of drinking. The sophomore passionately said, “I don’t think they’re even comparable. I don’t like how I feel after I drink, and I love how I feel after I smoke—that means like right after, it means a few hours after, [and] the next morning.”
The employee also made similar claims, “I think alcohol is the devil. Alcohol makes you make stupid decisions. Weed doesn’t.” She then gave a would-you-rather question on choosing alcohol or weed, and concluded, “I will never ever regret choosing the high night because I’ll get a great amount of sleep, and I won’t have any hangover.”
Of course, there can be negative effects to using cannabis, and users should proceed with caution. The sophomore who smokes to relieve anxiety says, “There are definitely downsides for some people but for me it’s mostly positive.”
Due to its FDA status as a Schedule I drug, the same legal status as heroin, marijuana is largely understudied. Widespread miracle health claims, as well as severe negative effects, have yet to be fully studied, and more studies are needed.
The CDC acknowledges the wide-ranging health effects too: “Marijuana use may have a wide range of health effects on the body and brain.” Indeed, the effects are far and wide. The CDC’s list of potential effects ranges from short-term memory loss to pain relief for cancer patients. But the CDC also acknowledges the lack of data, concluding, “More research is needed to understand the full impact of marijuana use on cancer.”
The interviewees also gave their opinions on legalization. To remove Schedule I status and facilitate scientific research, though, federal legalization is necessary. Both students expressed strong support for legalization. While there is a growing patchwork of legal states, marijuana is still federally illegal and is not for sale in New York. But Democratic Senate leaders are pushing for comprehensive cannabis reform. This is seen as a necessary step by many, as there are still more than half a million arrests for marijuana possession each year in the US, not to mention the disproportionate number of Black and Latinx individuals who are arrested. “Weed is very harmless, and by legalizing it you’re going to make it more accessible and have less arrests,” the employee argued.
These conversations around cannabis continue to evolve. With the drug having achieved legal status in Canada in 2018, and with Mexico having just legalized marijuana last week, a pan-North-American cannabis heaven could be a few short years away. “That would be a beautiful feature,” the sophomore said, but she says she can’t wait. “After hearing that, I’m probably gonna move to Mexico,” she announced gleefully. The junior was also in support, “I think it would be good for the global political economy and world peace. There would be less trafficking.”
These deep and dank moonlit conversations about weed’s status on campus and beyond will no doubt continue as long as marijuana and Sunset Lake exist.