Smoking marijuana in dorms and apartments is a common practice among Penn State students, as is the case at most universities. Yet this time-honored student tradition could get a bit more dangerous in the spring of 2015 with the release of a new tobacco and marijuana smoke detector known as AirGuard. This device ignores things like smoke from cooking or candles, while zeroing in on tobacco and marijuana smoke. Rather than emitting an ear-splitting scream like a conventional smoke detector, the sensor quietly sends an electronic signal to an interested party, such as the police, rental office, hotel front desk, RA or residents life coordinator.
As things stand now, it is already unsafe to toke in the Penn State dorms, but AirGuard could elevate smoking in the dorms from risky behavior to suicidal behavior. So would AirGuard put an end to marijuana smoking at Penn State? Of course not. Dorm residents would just go outside, which is something more safety conscious students already do. And of course, certain apartments will still be safe zones for tokers. In fact, my worry with apartments is not so much the police, but that landlords will use trace amounts of tobacco or cannabis as yet another justification to grab security deposits.
Use of AirGuard in dorms and apartments could not eliminate something as culturally ingrained as marijuana in a college town, but it could reduce the overall amount of cannabis consumption, if toking becomes less convenient. As an adult resident of State College, my concern is that any decrease in cannabis consumption will harm the quality of life in this town. If a dip in marijuana use leads to an increase in alcohol use, then this is a horrible trade-off. Stoned people simply do not cause problems in State College, or anywhere else for that matter. It is the drunkards who engage in criminal mischief (property destruction), get into fights, commit sexual assaults, pull fire alarms, urinate in elevators, vomit on stairwells, get transported to the ER for overdoses, etc. To the extent that marijuana provides a safer alternative to alcohol, it should be welcomed and embraced!
Before Penn State or any other university considers going all Big Brother by installing marijuana sensors in dorm rooms, the administration should consider more than just the direct upfront financial costs. These devices may very well deter a certain percentage of high school students and even parents from choosing Penn State, and it would disproportionately discourage the creative, young artists, musicians and thespians, who add life and color to a college town, from enrolling at Penn State.
When one considers the high rate of cannabis consumption in Happy Valley, decreased enrollment due to persecution of stoners should be a legitimate concern. By way of comparison, if State College Borough suddenly lost its mind and made State College a dry town, we would see a precipitous drop in enrollment. For better or worse, Penn State's brand attracts students who like to party.
Prohibition does not work and never has worked. With an end to marijuana prohibition finally in sight, it would be both ironic and ill-advised for Penn State to invest in marijuana sensors in the dorms.
Matt McClenahen is a Penn State alumnus and State College criminal defense lawyer, who represents victims of marijuana prohibition. http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/Marijuana-Related-Offenses.shtml