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Drug Charges on College Campuses: Do Special Laws Apply?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

The halls of higher learning are not the mean streets of the city, in more ways than one. But one of the important ways campus life differs from real life is the way schools treat drug offenses. The consequences for getting nabbed for drug possession in a dorm can be vastly different than if you're picked up in public for the same offense, for better or for worse.

Here's a look at how colleges and universities, as well as surrounding police departments, treat drug crimes.

College Cops

Not only might school administrators treat drug crimes differently than local, state, or federal law enforcement, but not every school treats drug offenses the same way. As Inside Higher Ed pointed out, small private colleges are far less likely to have students arrested for drug-related offenses than larger, public university counterparts: "In 2013, private, four-year institutions with enrollments of fewer than 5,000 referred more than 14,000 students for disciplinary action for drug violations. Fewer than 2,000 students were arrested."

That's not quite the case at bigger schools. "At a number of large universities," Inside Higher Ed reports, "arrested students actually outnumber students who are referred for disciplinary action." According to crime statistics, between 2011 and 2013, "Florida State University referred just 32 of its 40,000 students for disciplinary action for drug use on campus. More than 400 students were arrested."

Many large universities employ private police forces of their own, who cooperate with local law enforcement and see their mission as to impose city and state law rather than unique student conduct policies. "Our process is to enforce the laws as they are outlined with each chapter of our Florida statute," David Perry, chief of police at FSU, told Inside Higher Ed. "We try not to apply uneven discretion in drug cases. It's pretty straightforward. We're there to enforce the laws."

Public Police

The larger the university and the more integrated with the surrounding city or town, the more likely outside law enforcement will get involved with student crimes, especially drug crimes. And those cities often have specific statutes addressing drug possession and distribution on school grounds. For instance, when two brothers were arrested for selling drugs on FSU's campus, they were charged with, among many other offenses, "possession of marijuana with intent to sell within 200 feet of a college campus."

So while some schools may steer students away from criminal prosecutions for drug crimes, others may not, and some students may be facing increased penalties for drug crimes committed on or near campus rather than off or farther away.

If you've been charged with a drug crime, on campus or off, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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