Cops Curb Cannabis at UT

Hayden Baggett

Marijuana related arrests and citations issued by the UT Police Department have dropped this year after increasing annually since 2014, records show.

The records, obtained by The Daily Texan through the Texas Public Information Act, indicate that UTPD has dealt with 94 fewer cannabis charges in 2018 than overall in 2017. Police officials cite their increased focus on West Campus as responsible for this change.

“We started focusing our efforts on the community that live just west of campus,” said UTPD Captain Chris Bonnet. “As those folks got used to seeing us over there, there was less of that criminal activity occurring or, at least, we saw less of it.”

In spite of the increase in charges between 2014 and 2017, Bonnet said his department never considered students smoking marijuana to be an issue in the first place.

“I wouldn’t classify it as a problem,” Bonnet said. “It’s a criminal violation for the time being. Laws are always subject to change but like every other criminal violation that occurs on campus, it’s our responsibility to address it.”

He said UTPD does not often resort to arresting cannabis offenders unless other criminal activity is involved.

“It’s not like we target pot-smokers,” Bonnet said. “Our default is typically going to be citation, especially for our students. There’s no reason to throw someone in jail for experimenting with marijuana.”

And some students’ encounters with law enforcement serve as a testament to this.

Computer science sophomore Bryan, whose last name was removed to protect his privacy, was cited by UTPD for possession of marijuana last spring.

“It was next to the Brazos Garage,” Bryan said. “I was high at the time, and I was just cited for having the weed.”

He said all he had to do was take a four-hour class to get the charge removed from his record.

“I know a few friends in the past that have been caught, and the police just let them go,” Bryan said. “In most cases, they don’t really overreact too much.”

Radio-television-film sophomore Sam, whose last name was also removed to protect his privacy, had a similar story. He was searched for suspicion of marijuana outside of Jester Residence Hall last year.

“We smoked a blunt, and as we were walking back, there was a single cop at the end of the alleyway,” Sam said. “They basically just made us sit on the curb. They searched only a few of us, and then they let us go.”

On campus, this sort of criminal activity does not happen solely outside. Aaron Voyles, director of residence halls operations, said resident assistants often call UTPD to investigate the odor of marijuana in dorms.

“For the 2017-2018 academic year, our staff responded and reported 35 incidents on suspicion of marijuana,” Voyles said. “We have about 7,400 residents that live on campus, just to give you an idea of the scope on that.”

Petroleum engineering freshman Lucus Moustakas said this number of incidents is not representative of his experience in Jester.

“I’ve smelled weed at least four or five times since I got here,” Moustakas said. “If people keep smoking where it’s obviously unwanted, then UTPD should probably do something more about it.”