The most recent data released by Monitoring the Future, a nationwide study conducted annually by the University of Michigan, offers one inescapable conclusion: College students are using marijuana at some of the highest rates in decades.
Information released in September 2014, reflecting research for the prior year, says that 36 percent of students reported using cannabis in the previous 12 months, as compared to 30 percent in 2006. Zooming in further, daily use has risen from its 2007 low of 3.5 percent to 5.1 percent in 2013. With the National Center for Education Statistics estimating 17.5 million students enrolled nationwide in fall 2013, that means some 900,000 college students partake at that rate.
Among college males, 9 percent indicated they'd used marijuana 20 or more times within the preceding 30 days, with only 3 percent of college females saying the same.
"This is the highest rate of daily use observed among college students since 1981 — a third of a century ago," says principal MTF researcher Lloyd Johnston in a press release. "In other words, one in every 20 college students was smoking pot on a daily or near-daily basis in 2013, including one in every 11 males and one in every 34 females. To put this into a longer-term perspective, from 1990 to 1994, fewer than one in 50 college students used marijuana that frequently."
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- UCCS says alcohol abuse is the largest student problem.
All of this raises questions about the current marijuana environment on the region's college campuses. We sent questions to all the major institutions in the area, including Colorado State University-Pueblo, and heard back from Colorado College, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak Community College.
And according to the trio, it's business as usual.
First, all three confirmed they don't allow cannabis on campus in any form, medical or otherwise, because it jeopardizes federal funding and some financial-aid agreements.
"Colorado College's policy on marijuana remains unchanged despite the passing of Amendment 64," spokeswoman Leslie Weddell writes.
They don't allow it on campus, or off-campus, or in a house with a mouse, or a box with fox. They do not like green eggs (with cannabis butter) and (infused) ham. They do not like it, Sam-I-Am.
Second, we asked about student organizing around the issue. PPCC and CC were unable to identify any groups, while spokesman Tom Hutton says UCCS has seen a variety of students on both sides of the issue. UCCS' six-year-old Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter is often seen at related political events, and chapter leader Paul Accola says it currently has five active members.
"I think there has been more activism around the school in recent years," Accola says in an email. "Naturally, with the passage of medical and recreational marijuana laws in Colorado, students are generally more aware of the issue and knowledgeable about it."
Despite the increased usage nationwide, both PPCC and CC say they have not seen any significant increase or decrease of weed-related incidents. UCCS' campus safety report doesn't break out stats by substance, but it reported 31 arrests for violations of drug laws in 2011, 43 in 2012 and 25 in 2013. "Alcohol abuse continues to be the largest problem for UCCS students," says Hutton, "though it also is not allowed in campus housing."
None of the schools could draw a line between out-of-state enrollment numbers and the various legal statuses of marijuana in Colorado, but CC and UCCS say their student population is booming either way. UCCS has grown from 7,668 students in 2004 to 11,147 in 2014, while Weddell says "applications at Colorado College have been on the increase for the past decade, well before Amendment 64 passed." The downtown school says applications have increased 97 percent from 4,094 in 2005 to 8,064 in 2015.
Lastly, we asked if enforcement has changed or been viewed in a different light.
"No changes have been noticed," says PPCC spokeswoman Allison Cortez.
Weddell likewise echoed CC's consistent stance: "It is an educational approach and not a strict enforcement approach."
Hutton says that UCCS, like CC, does not conduct generalized sweeps or searches of the dorms, but that campus police respond "when contacted by resident assistants (employees) or by residents who notice a strong odor or inappropriate behaviors or when police need to check the welfare of an individual."
Looking at the numbers, it seems like campuses can't continue the status quo forever. Just ask the 12th graders (high school seniors), as Monitoring the Future did in 2013.
The question was whether they think someone who regularly smokes marijuana risks harming themselves. In 1990, 77.8 percent of respondents agreed with that statement — but by 2013 that number had plummeted to 39.5 percent.