The Marijuana Community at
St. Olaf College
Marc Hosmer and Rebecca Oestreich
The purpose of this study was to gain an
understanding of students’ perceptions regarding whether or not a
community based on the smoking of marijuana exists at St. Olaf
College. It serves as a pilot study that will lead to further
investigation into the interactions among members of that
community. Through qualitative research we discovered that
students do perceive there to be a marijuana smoking community at St.
Olaf that exists both while smoking and while not engaging in
smoking. We also learned about perceptions of the students making
up the community; how they are stereotyped; how the administration is
perceived to view this community and marijuana smoking in general; and
how accepted marijuana smokers at St. Olaf College actually are.
In order to understand the perceptions of the St.
Olaf students in our study, it is important to understand the context
in which they live, work, and study. Most importantly it is
necessary to understand when, where, and how they interact, and how
student life relates to the sense of community and the interactions
St. Olaf College is a private institution of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, drawing its population of 3,041
students, from forty-eight states, including Alaska and Hawaii, and
twenty-three countries. Each student and faculty member weave
their respective values, beliefs, and philosophies into the diverse
fabric of student life. However, 52.8% of those students are
residents of Minnesota and many come from other Midwestern
states. St. Olaf is trying to increase its percentage of minority
students as well, but currently only 8.2 percent of the students are
identified as being minority.
St. Olaf is situated on a large hill overlooking the
town of Northfield, Minnesota, which is centered on the Cannon
River. The population of Northfield is close to 17,000 people
when both colleges, St. Olaf and Carleton, are in session. The
town provides shopping opportunities for students as well as a few
entertainment options including a small cinema, a bowling alley,
cafés and restaurants.
Cornfields surround the college, giving it an isolated feel.
However, St. Olaf is situated just forty minutes south of the twin
cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Transportation is provided,
in the form of coach busses, on weekends. However the majority of
students spend very little time in the cities.
Only 140 students live off campus currently, including those who are
doing their student teaching. This means that more than 97% of
students reside on campus. Living in one of St. Olaf’s eleven
residence halls, students are usually somewhat segregated by class
year. An honor house is another option for groups of students who
formulate volunteer projects. Languages houses are for those
interested in, or majoring in, a language. They are expected to
speak the language at all times in the house.
In the center of campus is Buntrock Commons, which serves as the
physical and social crossroads for the St. Olaf campus. It was
designed to architecturally and symbolically links the three symbols of
St. Olaf College: the institutions of church (Boe Chapel), academic
excellence (Rolvaag Library), and community life (Buntrock Commons).
Buntrock Commons houses Stav Hall, the dining facility on campus, where
students can eat three meals a day in a large, open hall. They
can also purchase gourmet food and drink in The Cage, a café
with an intimate yet spacious feel as the tables spill out into one of
the Common’s hallways. Students, faculty, staff, and visitors can
meet there for a cup of coffee or a full meal. It gives students
a place to converse, study, and meet in groups, or simply take a break
from academics and other pressures. The Lion’s Pause is a student
run facility in Buntrock Commons that offers entertainment options
ranging from board games to pool tables, arcade games, food, and
concerts. Buntrock Commons also houses the college bookstore and
a small theatre as well as meeting rooms and a faculty lounge.
Academic buildings are located around this center of life at St.
Olaf. Many house multiple departments, but they are loosely
organized around broader subjects of study. St. Olaf prides
itself on its commitment to strong academics, as well as its commitment
to fostering the entire person: the mind, body, and spirit. This
is based on a mission that includes challenging academics, a faith
based community, and a global perspective. St. Olaf strives to
provide a community where all students are accepted, and ideas and
ideals are respected.
A survey of first year students who entered St. Olaf in the fall of
2000 prepared by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP)
at the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of
California at Los Angeles (UCLA) found that a total of 30.0% of St.
Olaf students held the view that marijuana should be legalized.
The results varied among gender lines; 33.3% of males favor
legalization while only 28.8% of females do. This finding is
fairly comparable to other relatively selective educational
institutions that took part in the survey.
College life offers a whole new range of
possibilities as well as new freedoms for students. It is also a
phase in life where students can choose how to define themselves, what
kinds of people they want to be friends with, and explore new
interests. Through these interests students in college make
friends and develop certain communities based around them. One
such community that we, from our experience as students, serceived to
exist at St. Olaf was based around the smoking of marijuana. We
sought to find students in this community and discover all of the
intricacies that were a part of it. We wanted to learn about how
students started using marijuana, whether it was before or after they
arrived at St. Olaf College. We wanted to know how students
became a part of this community and the interactions that take place
among its members. We felt that this community is one that has
been largely ignored in the past, both in research, and by the
administration. We hoped to bring light to how and why students
became a part of it.
Our research proposal included all of this
information as well as a sample consent form and questionnaire.
Our proposal was to identify members of this community through snowball
sampling and interview twenty of them. The proposal was submitted
in mid-March to our professor and subsequently to the Institutional
Review Board, the committee that has the responsibility to approve all
research designed to incorporate human subjects. Their main
responsibility is to guarantee that the benefits of any study will
outweigh the risks to both the participants in the study and to the
researchers themselves. While many of the other proposals from
our class were approved quickly, due to the sensitive topic in our
paper it was passed on to a full review by the entire board.
Following their review, during the week of March 31,
we were asked to revise the participant consent form in order to
incorporate more completely the risks, benefits, and rights that the
participants would be facing if they chose to participate in our
study. We did this and submitted it to the IRB via e-mail.
After turning in this addition we received word that our proposal was
in danger of rejection due to the legal implications on the
participants, researchers, and the college in acknowledging the illegal
activity of smoking marijuana. One member of the IRB suggested
that we change the focus of the proposal to the community formed by
students who smoke cigarettes. For both the researchers and our
professor this was unacceptable because we felt that if there is a
community of cigarette smokers, it certainly did not have the same
complexities of the marijuana smoking community. The IRB’s main
concern was that we would be identifying people who illegally smoke
marijuana, even though they would remain completely anonymous in the
final paper, legal authorities could subpoena our records and, in turn,
prosecute those identified through them.
With the guidance of our professor we arrived at a
new proposal in which we would randomly distribute 300-500 open-ended
questionnaires through the POs asking students who are marijuana
smokers to respond. We were hoping for approximately twenty
responses. We would have asked for those students who don’t
identify themselves as marijuana smokers if they would be willing to be
interviewed regarding their perceptions and attitudes about the
marijuana smoking community on campus. We hoped that this
solution would resolve the risk, recruitment, and privacy issues with
which the IRB was concerned.
Once those issues were addressed, the focus of the
IRB’s concern was switched from the risks to subjects, to the
institutional liability of the college. This is something that
should have been an issue all along, however it was not brought up till
after this second proposal was submitted on April 8th. We were
informed that the college lawyer was out of town for the week and
couldn’t be reached. The IRB concluded, “In the absence of review
by the College attorney, students cannot conduct confidential research
that elicits information about illegal activities engaged in or
observed by their respondents.” However they did say that we “may
conduct research concerning OPINIONS about the illegal activity or
about persons who engage in illegal activities.”
While time was running short in the semester, and it
didn’t appear that any proposal that we submitted on the topic of
marijuana smoking, or the community, would be approved, we began
contemplating doing research on the IRB process itself. Due to
the number of complications that we had already faced with the IRB we
decided against that option. However, our professor attended the
IRB meeting on April 16th and finally came to a compromise with the
IRB. We were informed that we could randomly select twenty
students to interview. Without asking or identifying them as
marijuana smokers or not, we could ask them questions regarding only
their perceptions of the marijuana smoking community. With that
news we set off putting together yet another complete proposal for the
IRB, as well as a new consent form and interview questions. Once
again, we waited for word from the IRB on the status of this new
proposal. The IRB felt that the benefit statement in our proposal
did not outweigh the risks presented. We, in turn, revised the
benefit statement and waited once again. Finally on Monday, April
28th, the final revision of our proposal was declared approved.
During this entire process we never spoke clearly with the IRB, or
spoke with the directly.
Our original intent was to interview twenty members of the marijuana
smoking community in order to gain a greater understanding of their
interactions with each other and their sense of identity as a
community. However, our final proposal set out to interview ten
male and ten female St. Olaf College juniors and seniors regarding
their perceptions of whether marijuana smokers constitute a community.
We included whether the students interviewed believe that (1) marijuana
smokers on campus view themselves as a community with which they
identify; (2) St. Olaf students in general perceive marijuana smokers
as a community; and (3) marijuana smoking shapes the social
interactions of marijuana smokers.
Obviously, the focus of our research has changed
many times, however in a way we still were looking at the same basic
idea, the sense of community that is formed among those people who
smoke marijuana at St. Olaf College. Due to the illegal nature of
its central activity, the community is formed because of the deviance,
secrecy, and necessary networks that enable its survival. Georg
Simmel, in his work “The Secret and the Secret Society,” states, “the
first internal relation that is essential to a secret society is the
reciprocal confidence of its members”(Simmel 470). It is this
confidence among the members, and the trust that builds the community
formed by people at St. Olaf College who smoke marijuana.
“A secret society is itself characterized by its
secret”(Simmel 483). The secretive nature of marijuana smoking
has created a tight-knit community at St. Olaf College that is
characterized by the simple fact that its members engage in this
secretive, and illegal, activity.
We randomly selected eighteen male and female
students in Ytterboe and Thorson Residence Halls, The Cage, and at
Wellstock (an annual outdoor music festival held at St. Olaf). We
chose only to interview juniors and seniors because they have been on
campus for at least two years and would have a better idea of whether
or not marijuana smokers form the community that we hoped to
study. We would approach the students at random and ask them
their year in school. Juniors or seniors would then be asked whether or
not they would be interested in being interviewed for our study.
If students said yes we would either schedule an interview time, or
interview them on the spot. We then asked the students fifteen
questions directed at their perceptions of marijuana use on
campus (Appendix A).
The interviewees were also required to sign an
informed consent form in which the topic of our study was stated as
well as the possible risks and what we were doing to protect our
subjects (Appendix B). Since marijuana smoking is an illegal
activity the people being interviewed were guaranteed confidentiality
and they asked to not give any specific information relating to their
own smoking or someone else’s marijuana usage.
This study has several possible biases. First,
our late IRB approval gave us only two weeks in which to complete our
study. This short amount of time allowed us only to interview a
limited number of students on campus. Our sample may therefore
not be representative of the entire St Olaf campus. Another
possible bias could come from the informants themselves. The
level of knowledge about marijuana smoking on campus as well as whether
or not the informant smokes marijuana could cause the interviewee to
give us completely different answers to our questions. Since we
do not know the respondent’s marijuana background we have no way of
knowing whether their information comes from inside information or if
it is simply speculation. The third possible bias comes from the
researchers. We may already have ideas about what the respondent
is going to say or what we want them to say. We may therefore
pick up on the information we want to hear and focus only on
that. We did everything in our power to combat this last bias but
it is impossible for a researcher to remain completely neutral.
Who Smokes Marijuana at St. Olaf?
One of our interests in this study was to find out
what students’ perceptions were concerning just how many people
actually smoke marijuana at St. Olaf College. The students we
interviewed obviously had varying amounts of exposure to marijuana at
St. Olaf and therefore their ideas of the percentage of students that
smoke varied significantly. The majority of the students
interviewed divided marijuana users into three categories: those who
have used, the occasional user, and the regular user. We found an
indirect relationship showing that the number of people who fit into
each category decreases as the frequency of use increases.
Estimates on the percentage of people in the “have used” category range
from 10% to 60%. Most people defined the “have used” category as
someone who has tried smoking or do so once or twice a year.
Those in the “occasional user” category have been estimated from 10% to
30%. People in this category are considered to use marijuana a
few times a month, generally at parties or other social
gatherings. Regular users are defined as those who use every day,
or several times a week. The number of regular smokers was
estimated to be between 2% and 5% of the St. Olaf student population,
roughly 60 to 150 students.
During our interviews students expressed the idea that more St. Olaf
students probably smoke than the general population thinks. There
are many factors contributing to this idea. The most prevalent is
that due to the illegal nature of the activity, it generally has to be
done in secrecy. We found that it is mostly done in small groups
behind closed doors, according to the interviewees’ perceptions.
One student made the comment that 80% of those who smoke marijuana
don’t want anyone to know they use. This is due to the negative
attitudes towards drug use by some students at St. Olaf. However,
this same student feels that marijuana smoking is a much more accepted
practice than we think it is. So how widely accepted is the
Acceptance of Marijuana Users
“I think they are accepted.”
“The majority of the student population accepts it.”
“They are usually accepted without any problem”
“I don’t run into problems with people who smoke, its not destructive, and it is done behind closed doors.”
“They are good people, just like everyone else. It’s just a habit that sets them apart.”
These quotations represent the perceptions of the
majority of the students studied in our research when asked the
question, “How accepted do you think marijuana smokers are in the St.
Olaf community?” One student said that smoking marijuana is fine
as long as the user doesn’t abuse the drug. Another student
compared smoking marijuana to differences in political views. Not
everyone is going to agree with your choices, but in general St. Olaf
students will respect your decision and freedom of choice.
Indifference is another attitude towards marijuana
smokers that is held by some St. Olaf students. Twelve out of the
sixteen people we interviewed felt that as long as they are not
directly affected by other students use of marijuana, then they have no
problem with it. One student said that this is because marijuana
use is not destructive towards others when it is done behind closed
doors. Generally it is the smokers prerogative whether they want
to smoke or not.
As is any community, there are always people who
disagree and are not accepting of others choices. St. Olaf is a
college founded in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and
therefore some students follow strict moral guidelines. The
possession and use of marijuana is illegal in the United States and
breaking the law is immoral and looked down upon by the church.
Also the use of marijuana is considered destructive towards the user’s
body and society as a whole.
Not all of those who look down upon marijuana
smokers do so because of religious reasons. Some students have
had negative experiences with smokers either directly or
indirectly. However, the blame is placed on the marijuana
smoking. One student said that, “some people see anything bad
about a marijuana user as a consequence of the drug, not their natural
“They think it’s pretty much the devil,” said one
junior male, and as a senior female said that the St. Olaf
administration sees marijuana as “an evil sore that just won’t
heal”. These are the most extreme reactions from our interviews,
but they characterize the general sentiment of students.
Even though students perceive the views of the administration as so
negative towards marijuana use, many of them feel that the
administration does little to prevent, or to control, marijuana use on
campus. One senior male said that he has never seen or heard
anything about marijuana on campus from the administration.
Others feel that the administration chooses to ignore the problem
because if they don’t admit to it, then they can’t be held
responsible. This fact that the administration ignores the issue
can be seen in the posters and educational programs sponsored by the
college. There are many that relate to drinking and its effects,
but none of them include marijuana. One junior male says, “the
administration doesn’t like it [marijuana use], but the cost of
enforcing it is not worth their time or effort”. He also says
that Public Safety can’t stop it. Another student who is aware of
Residence Life staff policies said that the staff is trained to smell
marijuana, but he has never heard of anyone being confronted about its
use. One student feels that the Residence Life staff doesn’t want
to know what is going on and takes a “don’t make me bust you”
attitude. She feels that this is because they have to deal with
it directly where as the administration doesn’t.
This is not to say that the administration does nothing about the
marijuana use on campus. Obviously they train the residence life
staff for a reason, and when necessary enforce the policies. For
example if there is a blatent disregard for the policies or if the
smoking is affecting other. Police can also be called in due to
the illegal nature and have legal action taken against those in
possession of marijuana. One senior remembers an incident a few
years ago in which there was a major drug search in one of St. Olaf’s
residence halls. According to this student, no drugs were
actually found, but they discovered drug paraphernalia. It is
specifically stated in the St. Olaf student handbook that “A student
who uses or possesses illegal drugs or paraphernalia will be subject to
immediate referral to the Counseling Center and may be subject to
disciplinary action up to and including dismissal from St. Olaf
College.” This senior student said that this search led to a
drastic reduction in the number of people dealing marijuana on
campus. Even though there was such a drastic reduction, many of
the students we interviewed stated that the administration is currently
unaware of just how prevalent marijuana is on campus.
Some students feel that not every authority figure on campus is
personally concerned with student’s marijuana smoking. According
to one student, “some feel that they have to enforce the policy, but
they don’t really care themselves”. Another student said that he
has had professors in class make comments supporting the legalization
of marijuana. That student feels that this is because “St. Olaf
is a liberal arts school, so people have an open-minded view of the
rest of the world”.
The most consistent response that we heard throughout our interviews
was that the administration is ignorant of the extent of marijuana use
on campus. The use that they are aware of is generally
ignored. One student sums up the students’ perceptions of the
administration’s views by saying, “I don’t think they are very pleased,
but considering how many people get away with it I don’t think they are
overly concerned with it either”.
A Stereotyped Activity
Potheads, stoners, hippies, slackers, and the
anti-Oles. All of these are nouns given to us by students when we
asked what labels or names they have heard used for marijuana
smokers. Potheads and stoners were the most prevalent.
These are names given to a small number of people on campus, but how
would you recognize these “potheads”? Hair can be a determining
factor in students’ stereotypes of marijuana users. Common
responses included long hair, dreadlocks, shaggy cuts, or just
Clothing is another item that can stereotype people as stoners.
One student said that they have “a knack for not dressing in the latest
fashion, but still socially okay.” Another general stereotype of
a smoker’s clothing is old thrift clothes that don’t necessarily match,
and are baggy. One student summed up what the stereotype of a
marijuana user is by saying they are seen as “crunchy granola,
Birkenstock wearing, tie-dyed wearing hippies…generally anything that
would identify you as unafraid to try crazy or drastic things, or break
Just because students have some of these characteristics doesn’t mean
that they are marijuana smokers. One person we interviewed told
us about a girl on campus who has dreadlocks, and because of her
hairstyle everyone just assumes that she smokes. Another student
said that people mistake him for a marijuana smoker all the time
because of his sleepy looking eyes.
Marijuana smokers are also thought by many to be very laid back.
They are perceived as outdoorsy and into peace and justice. One
student said that those who smoke marijuana don’t get uptight with
problems in everyday life. They take a much more relaxed approach
to getting things done and solving their problems. Many of the
students we interviewed in this research had reservations about giving
this information on smoker’s characteristics because they identified it
as wrong to stereotype others. These stereotypes can lead to
misconceptions of marijuana users, another factor that we were
interested in learning about.
The damaging effects of marijuana are one of the most controversial
misconceptions we learned about. Many defended marijuana use by
saying that alcohol is worse for you, not just in its effects on your
body, but in your behaviors as well. Alcohol affects your motor
skill differently. For instance, people don’t stumble when they
are high. One student said, “There are more deaths from drunk
driving than high driving”. Other students also shared this
opinion with us. Another student said “you cannot overdose
or kill yourself with marijuana”. Yet another student cited a
study proving that marijuana is non-addictive.
There are also students who express concern about the negative effects
of marijuana use. One student feels that it “grabs a hold of you
a lot more strongly than alcohol … people who smoke think they are a
lot more free than they are”. Another student says that people
would be surprised at the fact that some marijuana users end up in
rehab. Others express concern that marijuana is a gateway drug
and can lead to the use of more dangerous narcotics.
Other common perceptions incorporate the intelligence level, drive to
succeed, and grades of marijuana users. One student cites the
fact that due to the admissions requirements and the rigorous
academics, any student at St. Olaf College has to have an above an
average intelligence. Just like any other group of students at
St. Olaf, bound by a common interest, marijuana smokers individually
are going to have differing goals. Some may be set high, and some
may be set low. Those whom we interviewed didn’t attribute low
goals to the use of marijuana, or express that there is a larger
percent of people with lower goals who smoke marijuana. A student
commented that she feels a lot of marijuana smokers have high
aspirations and set goals, but the general population doesn’t bother to
notice. Smokers are also regularly stereotyped as not doing their
homework, she said. One student stated that any other outside
influences could contribute to not doing homework; it doesn’t have to
be the marijuana. Yet another student feels that the majority of
marijuana smokers at St. Olaf are responsible about their homework and
finish it before they engage in smoking marijuana. Many of those
we interviewed were concerned with the misconception that marijuana
smokers get bad grades.
Even though most of the people we interviewed were
so hesitant to stereotype marijuana users, there are some people who
try to fit into the stereotype. One person said, “Some people are
really proud of the fact that they smoke marijuana”. Some of the
people who are proud of their smoking purposely try to fit the
stereotypical characteristics, so that they will be recognized as a
smoker. Another said “there are certain people in the community
that make marijuana smoking part of their identity.”
Many of the people we interviewed expressed the feeling that there is
no one typical type of marijuana smoker. They can range from your
“crunchy granola hippie” to your “Abercrombie and Fitch
model”. It is the misconceptions that we must be
cautious about when talking or thinking about any type of people,
including marijuana users. As one student put it, “All marijuana
users are pretty different; you shouldn’t put them all into one
category. That would be like putting all alcohol users into one
Is There a Marijuana Community at St. Olaf?
fourteen out of the sixteen people interviewed in
our study said that there is a marijuana smoking community at St. Olaf
College. Obviously not all people who smoke marijuana at St. Olaf
will be a part of the same community. However, the perception is
that the act of marijuana smoking creates a bond among those
involved. One student cites the great lengths that students have
to go to in order to obtain the drug as one of the reasons for the
formation of this community. The actual act of smoking also plays
a large part because in general, smokers form a circle and pass the
drug around. Each person is responsible for adding marijuana to
the group. This student compared this to the act of breaking
bread with friends.
“Any time you have a majority of people who do
something that is frowned upon, they will join together.” This
quotation shows another important aspect of the formation of the
marijuana community. Due to the illegal nature of this activity,
as well as the potential negative social connotations that go along
with drug use, trust becomes a very import aspect. Users would not
subject themselves to the consequences of discovery by a large
majority, the administration, or legal authorities. Those who
smoke would also need an outlet to talk about their experiences, and go
to for help, and that trust relationship with someone with whom you
have engaged in an illegal activity would surely be important in this
instance. “I’m sure people wouldn’t smoke or talk about their smoking
with people that they don’t trust,” said one student, “just because of
the consequences a breach of trust could result in.”
Trust is not the only thing that results from the illegal nature of
marijuana use. Help from others when there is a potential threat
of discovery is a very important aspect mentioned by some of those we
interviewed. One student felt that, just like any other rule
violation at St. Olaf, friends will watch out for each other and try to
warn each other when there is a threat. He feels that the double
threat of violating school policy, and breaking the law would push the
marijuana community into a “greater desire to look out for each other”.
There is also a fear attached to the activity, and it cannot be shared
with everyone. Students mentioned that it is not the type of
thing you could write about in an English paper due to the
repercussions that would follow. Although there is a fear that
comes along with smoking, there is also an element of excitement with
that fear. One student thinks that smokers bond together in this
community because they feel that it is an injustice and they are being
persecuted for an act that they see as perfectly acceptable.
Other students felt that the community is formed for more personal
reasons, as a way to rebel or to establish identity. One student
said “they are rebelling not against authority, but against the
stereotypical blonde, Lutheran, Olaf student”. Some saw it as a
way to fit in. It is a way to form an automatic common
bond. One student said that “you will always have friends when
you smoke, you will always have friends to smoke with you”.
Another said “if you don’t fit in anywhere, you can get together with
smokers and fit”. These comments express the idea that smokers
have a certain way of accepting people. That theme was recurrent
through many of our interviews. One opinion that was expressed is
that smokers, due to their laid-back attitude and open-mindedness, are
more accepting than your average non-smoker. Along with this, one
student said that “some smokers don’t like each other, but will give
each other the time of day simply because they smoked together, or have
friends that smoke.”
Of course many of those we interviewed were referring to those who
smoke marijuana regularly as those who form the community. Many
wanted to point out that not everyone who smokes marijuana is in the
community. The occasional smokers will generally be part of other
groups who don’t have marijuana smoking as one of their common
interests or identifying traits. Along with this idea, it was
brought up that not all of the regular smokers form just one
community. There are other sub-communities within the marijuana
community. One student felt that those people in the marijuana
community do not form one distinct group. However, another
student noted that if you do smoke marijuana odds are that you will
have smoked with every other smoker on campus at least once. This
idea can be explained through the comment of one of those interviewed,
who said, “There are different atmospheres among different groups of
smokers. They don’t hang out with everyone who smokes, but they
all network with each other. They share with each other when it
When Does the Community Exist?
The general perceptions tell us the time that the
community is most obvious is at the point when the members are engaging
in marijuana smoking. They are all participating in one activity
and generally they do it together. Due to the fact that smoking
is usually done behind closed doors, the members become close and
intimate with each other while they are smoking. Through this
common interest and through spending time together, friendships are
strengthened leading to more interactions outside the realm of smoking.
We asked where the majority of these outside
interactions would take place, and what kinds of common interests
marijuana smokers share. One student said that the community
exists when the members are not smoking, and when they are in areas
where it is inappropriate to smoke, including the main campus, at
movies, and in any other public place.
Another finding is that members of the marijuana
community do things that all friends do. One student, when asked
what kind of common interests marijuana smokers have said, “There is
nothing they couldn’t have in common.” Many others shared this
idea, but there are a few activities that were cited more often,
including Frisbee golf, listening to and talking about music, watching
movies, video games, outdoor activities, and campus golf. One
activity that prompted mixed ideas was hacky-sac. Some students
felt that it was defiantly an activity where many smokers participate,
while other felt that it had been in the past, but has become too
mainstreamed for the serious smokers. Many people play hacky-sac
who are not smokers or part of the marijuana smoking community.
This also shows us that we cannot stereotype people as marijuana users
simply because of the activities they participate in. These
activities that were cited as common interests could be common
interests of any other community or group of friends.
One student said that “everything is based around
humor” in the marijuana smoking community. The humor comes from
many sources. Multi-viewings of movies, as well as quoting them,
provide one type of this humor. Watching or listening to stand-up
comedy was another source. They are also said to find the humor
in everyday situations, especially those around St. Olaf and its
A minority of the people we interviewed believed
that the community did not exist outside of smoking. However, it
is still important to note their beliefs and ideas on the
subject. One person thinks that it exists superficially outside
of smoking. He thinks that those in the community will say hi
when they see each other, but they won’t go out of their way to hang
out with each other. Another student said that smokers “become
bonded to each other through marijuana smoking, but it’s not always as
lovey-dovey as they sometimes think it is.” He also says, “the
friendships are not based on anything more than weed.” One
student said there is not a community when they are not using
drugs. She compares the marijuana community to FCA (Fellowship of
Christian Athletes) here at St. Olaf. “When you are
participating, you are in the community, you are set apart, but when
you are not in the meetings, there really is no community. It
turns into individual people with their individual interests once
Smokers Recognition and Interactions With Each Other
“There is no way of telling.”
“There is really no way of knowing other than verbal contact.
There is some instinctual feeling. Generally you can tell because
that person seems more open, liberal, and comfortable with themselves.”
Due to the fact that marijuana smoking is such a stigmatized and
hushed activity, not everyone knows who the smokers on campus
are. Even smokers have a hard time recognizing other smokers
sometimes. If a smoker comes upon another person they suspect
smokes there are things that are said to test the waters to see the
other person’s position on it. Another student says that
“sometimes you have no clue because they don’t want anyone to know that
There is some interaction between smokers simply
because of recognition from a party where people were smoking.
The fact that students know that the other student smokes helps to form
some kind of a common bond. As one student put it, “there is a
nod that happens, both literally and figuratively.” Also, it is
easy to make friends with these people because there is no
icebreaker. The recognition of the other student’s use becomes
Not every smoker is hard to recognize. “If
they smoke, they say it. If they don’t, they say it.” Said one
interviewee. One person feels that the people who are talking
about marijuana smoking the most are the ones who do it, and there
aren’t very many conversations about it with those who don’t
smoke. Other students just don’t know what to say and don’t want
to appear judgmental. Many of those interviewed felt that those
who don’t smoke gossip about it. They say things like “Did you
hear that so and so smokes?”, or “I can’t believe he/she came to class
stoned.”. Or they are simply wondering if one of the people they
see is currently under the influence of marijuana. Those who do
smoke talk about things other than marijuana; usually, however when
they do talk about it, the topic is generally about the supply of
We were also wondering if marijuana users are
thought to select roommate who are also marijuana users. We heard
different answers, but one fairly consistent result was that marijuana
users would select someone who was at least accepting of the practice
even if they did not do it themselves. Some may try to select
roommates who smoke as well, but it often doesn’t work out because it
is often all they will end up doing. One student compared it to
people who like to play chess, that’s all they will do if they both
Many students will then choose someone who doesn’t smoke but is
accepting of it for different reasons. The most commonly stated
reason is that it is extremely cold in Minnesota during the
winter. Smokers do not want to have to go outside in freezing
temperatures simply to get high. Others state that if a
person were a regular smoker, it would be something that is very hard
to hide from a roommate. This becomes a definite issue for
first-year students who generally don’t have the option of choosing who
they room with.
Besides choosing roommates, smoker’s actions are thought to be just
like anyone else. People will choose friends for similar
interests, not just one interest. So, when smokers are hanging
out with other smokers they may be smoking, or they may be doing one of
a million other things. It all depends on the people and what
Summary and Conclusions
Through our interviews we discovered that students
do in fact perceive a community based on the smoking of marijuana at
St. Olaf. We found that students think that a large percentage of
students smoke marijuana. These students can be divided into
three categories: have used, occasional user, and regular user.
However we also discovered that some students feel that an overwhelming
majority of students who do smoke marijuana do not want others to know
Marijuana smoking is widely accepted by students at
St. Olaf. Many students express the idea that as long as the
smokers are not bothering others it is their own personal choice
whether they smoke or not. It is when others’ rights are violated
that smoking of marijuana becomes a problem. There is a small
minority of students who do not accept marijuana users, either for
legal, religious, or personal reasons. Some blame the problems
associated with marijuana smoking on the drug itself rather than on the
The students we interviewed felt the administration
saw marijuana smoking on campus as a negative thing, but thought the
administration did not see combating the problem as a high priority as
they do little to control the use. They do some training of
residence life staff and call the police when necessary, but there is
not much done to educate the students. Many students also thought
the administration is unaware of the extent of marijuana use on
campus. One possible explanation is that the school wants to
avoid the negative publicity that cracking down on drugs would bring.
People who we interviewed were very reluctant to
stereotype people who smoke marijuana, first because there is a feeling
that stereotyping is wrong, but mainly because they acknowledge that
many different types of people smoke marijuana. But some students
were willing to list off some common characteristics of the
stereotypical marijuana smoker. These included certain types of
clothing and hairstyles, as well as certain personality traits that
included a laid-back attitude. However, many people were cautious
to note that not everyone who fits into those stereotypes necessarily
uses marijuana. Another type of stereotype is that students who
smoke marijuana have less intelligence and motivation, as well as fewer
goals. Some of the students interviewed clearly expressed the
idea that marijuana use is not a determining factor in these
areas. This is backed up by research by Miranne, who discovered
that there is no significant relation between marijuana use and
achievement orientations, or performance (Miranne 1979).
Marijuana smoking was also cited by some interviewees as safer than
alcohol consumption, an activity that the St. Olaf administration
spends a significantly larger amount of time dealing with.
We also found that smokers are, in a sense, deviant
because they are not fitting in to what is seen as the typical St. Olaf
student; the preppy, blonde, Lutheran, wealthy Minnesotan.
Marijuana smokers who do not fit into this mold can find accpeptance
with other marijuana smokers who also do not fit into this
stereotype. Some of those interviewed felt that the marijuana
smokers are not simply being different from the stereotypical St. Olaf
student, they are also rebelling.
fourteen out of sixteen of the students that we
interviewed believe that there is a distinct community of marijuana
smokers on campus. Students percieved that marijuana creates a
bond between the smokers. The illegal nature of the activity
requires trust, as the threat of discovery could hurt them all.
Another reason that the community is formed is that those who smoke
will see other people that they don’t know smoking at a party and
automatically have a something in common, or an ice breaker if they
ever meet again.
The marijuana community is seen to exist even when
members are not engaged in smoking marijuana. The closeness and
acceptance formed in the community while members are engaged in smoking
extends to other activities as well. Members of the marijuana
community do things that all friends do when they get together, but
movie watching, frisbee golf and video game playing are the most
popular cited activites that St. Olaf students say marijuana smokers
enagage in together. A minority of those we interviewed felt that
the marijuana community is based on nothing other than smoking
marijuana and any interaction outside of smoking together is very
Recognising other members of the marijuana community
is very hard to do. There are all different types of marijuana
smokers that each fit into different categories. Some are proud
of their marijuana habits and purposely fit the stereotypical
mold. However, most students don’t recognize smokers for certain
until there is a verbal exchange or they view that person smoking
Marijuana smokers are thought to choose roommates
who are accepting of their marijuana habits. Having another
roommate who smokes marijuana as well can be troublesome, though,
because they will have a tendency to smoke more often. Marijuana
smokers tend to be friends with other smokers because they have bonded
over smoking marijuana and they also have many things in common.
Leibsohn supports these findings in her research on relationships
between users, and concludes that drug use may be an important
determining factor in the choice of new college friends (Leibsohn,
We found that smokers are in some sense deviant
because they go against the stereotypical image of a St. Olaf
student. Suchman found that drug use is more likely to be
reported by those students who are relatively antagonistic to the
educational system and who are dissatisfied with the education they are
receiving. Their major finding includes the fact that the more
likely a student self image is to be rebellious, cynical, and
antiestablishment, the more likely they are to smoke marijuana
Possible Theortetical Explanations
Edwin H. Sutherland and Donald R. Cressy offer a
theoretical explanation termed Differential Association. They
view that crime and deviance is a learned behavior, and that people are
more likely to learn it from their own intimate associates than from
frightening or suspicious outsiders. Through being around these
deviant models, people become convinced that their behaviors are
acceptable, and will move into these deviant behavior patterns (Adler
and Adler 2003). This could be an explanation as to why students
form the percieved marijuana community. They feel both close
enough to learn behaviors and feel secure and protected among their
peers. In our interviews we have laerned that marijuana smoking
is percieved to be widly acceptable. The people we interviewed
also percieved there to be a significant number of marijuana smokers at
St. Olaf. The acceptance of this activity and the number of
smokers could therefore be correlated according to Sutherland and
Cressy’s model of Differential Association.
Recommendations for Future Uses
When we originally set out to study the interactions
of the members of the marijuana community we were hoping to get a truly
in-depth look at all of factors involved. However, due to the
change in our plans beyond our control we were unable to focus on our
origional interest. Hopefully this paper can act as a pilot study
for future research on the marijuana smoking community. Maybe
this will enable the IRB to realize that there is actually a marijuana
community, and it is an important part of life at St. Olaf to study and
to learn more about. Therefore, they may put more effort into
understanding the actual legal and ethical ramifications of doing a
research proposal like the one we set out to study in the beginning of
the semester which will enable more in-depth research. Hopefully,
this study might bring light to the fact that there actually is an
extensive marijuana smoking community at St. Olaf, not to regulate it
or to inhibit it, but to make sure that students are safe and feel
accepted and respected among the community which St. Olaf prides itself
on. By understanding the marijuana community and the accpetance
found within the larger campus community, we can glean an understanding
of why students choose to smoke.
Adler, Peter and Patricia A. Adler. Constructions of Deviance. 4th ed. United States: Thomson
Becker, Howard S. “Becoming a Marihuana User.” American Journal of Sociology 59
De Micheli, Denise and Maria Lucia O. S. Formigoni. “Are Reasons for the First Use of
Drugs and Family Circumstances Predictors of Future Use Patterns?” Addictive
Behaviors 27 (2002): 87-100.
Hathaway, Andrew D., “Marijuana and Lifestyle: Exploring tolerable deviance” Deviant
behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol 18 (1997) pp. 213-232.
Knight R.C.; Sheposh J.P.; Bryson, J.B.. “College Student Marijuana Use and
Societal Alienation“ Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Vol. 15, No. 1. (Mar., 1974), pp. 28-35.
Leibsohn, Jacqueline. “The Relationship Between Drug and Alcohol Use and Peer
Group Associations of College Freshmen as they Transition from High School.”
Journal of Drug Education 24 (1994): 177-92.
Page, Randy M. and Andria Scanlan. “Perceptions of the Prevalence of Marijuana Use
Among College Students: A Comparison Between Current Users and
Nonusers.” Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse Vol.
9, No 2 (1999): 1-12
Pollard, Jeffrey W., et. al. “Predictions of Normative Drug Use by College Students:
False Consensus, False Uniqueness, or Just Plain Accuracy?” Journal of College
Student Psychotherapy 14 (2000): 5-12.
Schaps Eric; Sanders, Clinton R., “Purposes, Patterns, and Protection in a
Campus Drug Using Community” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Vol. 11, No. 2. (Jun., 1970), pp. 135-145.
Simmel, Georg. “The Sociology of Secrecy and of Secret Societies” American
Journal of Sociology, Vol. 11, No. 4. (Jan., 1906), pp. 441-498.
Suchman Edward A., “The "Hang-Loose" Ethic and the Spirit of Drug Use”
Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Vol. 9, No. 2, Special Issue on Recreational Drug Use. (Jun., 1968), pp. 146-155.
Werch, Chudley E., Betty W. Meers, and Joan Farrell. “Stages of Drug Use Acquisition
Among College Students: Implications for the Prevention of Drug Abuse.”
Journal of Drug Education 23 (1993): 375-85.
1. What is your general perception of the extent of marijuana use among students at St. Olaf?
2. How do you feel about students who smoke marijuana?
3. How accepted do you think marijuana smokers are in the St. Olaf community?
4. How do you think the college administration views marijuana smoking by students?
5. Do you think there is a distinct community of students who smoke
marijuana on campus? What makes you think there is/ isn’t such a
6. To what extent do you think marijuana users recognize and interact with each other?
7. To what extent would you say marijuana users make friends and select roommates who are also marijuana users?
8. If you believe there is a marijuana smoking community, how would you
describe the sense of community that exists among members on campus?
(What sense do they have that they make up a group with a shared
9. How do you think marijuana users see themselves in comparison with the larger St. Olaf student body?
10. What would you say are the characteristics by which marijuana
smokers are recognized (other than direct observation of marijuana use)?
11. Other than obtaining and using marijuana, what other interests and activities do you think marijuana users have in common?
12. What labels or names have you heard used for marijuana smokers?
13. What kind of discussions take place among St. Olaf students about marijuana users on campus?
14. Would you say that there are misconceptions about marijuana smokers
among non-smokers? What are some of these misconceptions?
15. In your opinion, to what extent do you think marijuana users make
up a community that exists when the members are not engaged in smoking
PARTICIPANT INFORMATION AND CONSENT FORM
You are invited to take part in a study that I am
doing through St. Olaf College. This study will examine students
perceptions of the marijuana use at St. Olaf and whether users form a
community. We are undertaking this research under the supervision
of Professor Carolyn Anderson in the Department of
Sociology/Anthropology. Approximately 20 Juniors and Seniors will
be participating in this study.
If you decide to participate you will be asked 16
questions and it will take about an hour. The study has small
risks, if any. We will not record your name or reveal your
identity to anyone, either orally or in written form. You will
not be asked about your own or others’ marijuana use. Please
answer the questions so as not to reveal any specific information
regarding your own or others' use of marijuana. We are asking for
general impressions and attitudes only. Nobody will be identified
in the final research paper by name and your responses will not be used
if they can easily distinguish who you are. Please know that your
participation in this study is voluntary and you can end your
participation at any time with no penalty. You can also decline
to answer any question for any reason with no penalty.
If you have any questions please feel free to
contact one of the researchers, Rebecca Oestreich at x6646 or
firstname.lastname@example.org, or Marc Hosmer at x2649 or
email@example.com. If you have any questions that I cannot answer
you may also contact my instructor, Professor Carolyn Anderson at x3133
Please sign below if you agree to participate in
this study. By signing this you are telling me that you have read
the information above and that your questions have been answered.
You can have a copy of this form to keep. Please know that you
can still withdraw from the study at any time even after you have
signed the form.
I have read the information above and my questions about this project
have been answered. I consent to participate in this
project. I agree not to disclose any individual-level information
about the possible drug use of any individual, including myself, in the
course of this interview.
Date__/__/__ Signature of participant____________________________
Date__/__/__ Signature of researcher_____________________________