Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

New class established for marijuana offenders

For the first time, students caught smoking pot will have to complete a special education class just as alcohol violators do.

As with the drinkers, pot smokers will be charged $50, made to write their parents and required to hand in a 500-word essay after the class on what they learned.

“We’re trying to make it pretty comparable, even though pot, no matter your age, is an illegal substance,” says Katie Dunker, assistant director for health promotion at the DU Health and Counseling Center.

Unlike the alcohol class, which focuses on education and “myth-busting,” the new Marijuana Education Class will examine motivation. The class will be small — five or six students — and will look at how behavior affects students’ ability to achieve goals, such as being more social, succeeding in the classroom or landing a good job.

The class was inspired by two factors. One is that statistics from last academic year show that the number of alcohol violators (232) dropped by about 19 percent but the number of pot violators (79) stayed the same. The other factor is that alcohol violators had to complete a harm-reduction class specifically about drinking, but pot smokers were lumped into an all-purpose class that included parking scofflaws, honor code violators or anyone else who ran afoul of a rule.

The new pot class will be run jointly by Dunker, who created the alcohol class, and Dr. Michael Maley, the center’s outreach coordinator, who received his doctorate in counseling psychology from DU in 2006. Maley specializes in substance abuse, eating disorders and depression.

“We’re going to try to get people to talk,” Maley says. 

“We want to develop a discrepancy between what they’re doing now and what they want in the future,” Dunker says. “And oftentimes that can be enough to motivate students to alter their behavior.”

The class will be in two or three sessions totaling three hours. It will present research on the connections between marijuana and mental health issues, such as mild depression, anxiety and mood swings, and physical impacts, such as asthma, bronchitis or strep throat. 

The class also will go over campus policies and state law and provide visualization training so students who wish to alter their behavior are able to do so.

“We want to raise awareness,” Maley says, “and to give people some education.”

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