NAUPD clashing with students due to marijuana usage on campus

Since students were able to move-in in August, the Northern Arizona University Police Department (NAUPD) has received 129 calls concerning marijuana use in the dorms as of Nov. 16.

Regardless of action taken by NAUPD, some students have become frustrated with the lack of legal action taken by NAUPD.

As some students see it, regardless of marijuana odor in the hall, if the actual drug is not physically present, police are helpless in stopping the problem.

But NAUPD Community Relations Officer Joe Tritschler says it is simply not true, “A lot can be done,” and NAUPD does have options.

The residences halls are treated as a residence and, therefore, are protected under the Fourth Amendment, which forbids unlawful search and seizure.

When officers are called into the halls, they are accompanied to the room in question by dorm staff. NAUPD trains dorm staff yearly in order to detect burning marijuana, so the call isn’t purely based on suspicion.

When the police arrive, they ask the student if they are willing to talk. According to Tritschler, the majority of the times they are called in the students in question are cooperative. They often agree to hand over their drugs and paraphernalia and are then subject to arrest. Most students are typically given a citation, which is not an admission of guilt, only an agreement to appear in court.

If the student denies the use of marijuana, the police may ask them to sign an acknowledgement to consent to a search. This is a document stating the person has agreed to let the officers search their room. Students are aware what they are searching for and have the right to be present and stop the search at any time.

In the case of the room residences refusing to answer the door, hall staff can still take action based on the Resident Life code of conduct, which states burning any substance is prohibited.

If there continues to be complaints, the police can issue a search warrant through the courts. The police need to provide enough evidence in order to be granted a search warrant. In the police academy, all police go through a live marijuana burn in order to detect the odor; therefore, an officer stating they smelled marijuana coming from the room is normally enough for a judge to sign the warrant.

It doesn’t take long to get a search warrant. Depending on the situation, an officer may wait outside of the suspected dorm while another goes to retrieve the signed warrant.

Another option is a criminal deferral. It states the student broke the law, but instead of going through the court system, they are sent through the Residence Life judicial office. The student may possibly be required to go to counseling or educational programs concerning the use of marijuana.

“As police here on campus, we’re here to educate and help students be successful,” Tritschler said. “It’s not about locking people up.”

Tritschler said students use tactics like putting plastic bags over the smoke detectors to blowing the smoke into bottles of dryer sheets— but none of it works. The odor can still be smelled from outside the room.

Aside from the harm smoking in the hall can cause other students, Tritschler fears how it can affect students’ futures.

“Anything you do is a risk,” Tritschler said. “Walking on ice in Flagstaff in the winter is a risk. But the reality is, when you’re 18-years-old or 19-years-old and coming to school, you don’t understand how something can affect you later on in life.”

If the student is issued a citation, it is still a criminal arrest. Criminal arrests show up on background checks and can inhibit future employment.

Tritschler just wants students to appreciate the opportunity they have.

“The future is very bright for everybody, but when you start doing things that could jeopardize your dream, your goal, that to me is really scary and that’s the message that I would really like the students to understand.”

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