Penn State’s head of law enforcement, Steve Shelow, acknowledged at this week’s Board of Trustees meeting in Hershey that Penn State Police are aggressively enforcing marijuana laws, which is why there has been an increase in the number of students charged with drug offenses on campus. Shelow, Penn State’s assistant vice-president for police and public safety, explained that increased enforcement efforts are the reason for a spike in drugs charges, while briefing the Board of Trustees on public health and safety at Penn State. Shelow stated “we are pretty aggressive, and that is the right approach, quite frankly.”
The fact that Penn State Police aggressively enforce marijuana laws against mere users of the plant is not exactly news to those who work in the Centre County judicial system, not to mention the scores of victims of this policy, the vast majority of whom are otherwise law-abiding, Penn State students. What is refreshing is that Shelow was so candid. The approach taken by Penn State Police is at odds with public opinion, and with the national trend among police departments to assign a low priority to possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, while still actively pursuing dealers.
Often times, those in officialdom who advance unpopular policies will dance around the issue, as if afraid of offending those with differing viewpoints. But not Shelow, and I highly doubt that a man in his position would be naive or sheltered enough to believe that a majority of the student body, their parents, alumni and people in the Centre Region would support prioritizing marijuana enforcement at a time when cannabis is gradually being re-legalized around the United States. This is 2014, not 1954, after all. He is clearly someone who is willing to openly take an unpopular position, regardless of what detractors might say. As a lawyer who represents vicitms of Prohibition, I obviously disagree with Penn State’s marijuana approach, but I have to respect the integrity of someone who will take a controversial position and “own it.”
Matt McClenahen is a Penn State alumnus and criminal defense lawyer in State College, Pennsylvania. He represents many students charged with marijuana-related offenses.