The trials and tribulations of being a dope-smoking dorm-dweller at DePaul

Nobody likes to end a holiday in handcuffs. Few things kill the mood like listening to your Miranda rights read aloud.   

For those who mark April 20 on their calendars in anticipation of a ceremonial date with Mary Jane, keeping the authorities at an arm’s length can be chalked up to a holiday chore. And if you’re a 4/20 disciple living under the thumb of student housing, that chore comes with heightened risk.

Every DePaul student living in student housing is issued a handbook from the university outlining the rules and regulations of life in the dorms. In it is everything you would expect: a detailed list of forbidden appliances and decor, emergency protocols, quiet hours, guest policies and friendly suggestions for resolving conflicts with your walking, talking, nightmare of a roommate. It’s everything you would want to know, but never bother to read.

Cannabis users living in the dorms at DePaul don’t need to read their handbook to know that the possession and use of their favorite vice is prohibited on university property, let alone their dorm room.

“Students may not illegally use, sell, possess or distribute any substance prohibited by local, state or federal law on University-owned or -controlled property,” the handbook reads. “This includes but is not limited to illegal drugs and controlled substances (including marijuana, narcotics, cocaine, heroin, prescription medications, synthetic cannabinoids or other drugs, and any chemical substantially similar to a controlled substance).”

Bill, a DePaul senior who asked to have his name changed, was well aware of both the university’s policy and the legal state of cannabis in Chicago while he was living in Clifton-Fullerton Hall as a freshman. But, like the many pot smokers in his building, he was not deterred.

When the weather is tolerable, Bill said he would usually take a walk around the block and smoke outside. When he stayed in his room, he would smoke concentrates (wax-like substances of concentrated cannabinoids like THC, commonly referred to as “dabs”), which don’t have as strong an odor.

Bill doesn’t remember exactly what he was doing right before he returned to his dorm room in the early afternoon of April 20, 2016, but said it was most likely in the spirit of the holiday. When he opened the door to his room, he was greeted by DePaul Public Safety Officers. The celebration, he could tell, had come to an end.

“One of the DePaul officers came in at me like Dwight Schrute,” Bill said. “Like a spitting image of what he does on ‘The Office.’ He looked like him, too.”

With his permission, the officers began searching the room in response to a report of marijuana odor on his floor. Knowing he was guilty, albeit confused as to how he became the chief suspect, Bill stood quietly, hoping things would go his way, until one of the officers came across a small safe and asked for a key.

Bill complied. Bill was busted.

“I had taken a couple rips of a dab pen in my room probably two hours prior [to finding Public Safety in my room],” Bill said. “The smell was not in my room anymore — wherever [the smell in] the report came from, it was not me.”

DePaul’s Office of Public Relation and Communication (OPRC) told The DePaulia that the university is ultimate forced to comply with state and federal law, and reports all felonies and serious misdemeanors to the Chicago Police Department. For cannabis related offenses, CPD officers will give the culprit a citation or make an arrest for possession of large quantities.

In Bill’s case, he was escorted out of his dorm in handcuffs and taken to the police station. He had just over two grams of product in his possession.

“Once I got in the [police] car I immediately started asking questions cause I really didn’t know what was going on,” Bill said. “The officer basically told me he was going to recommend a really easy judge and nothing would come of it.”   

Bill said the officers put him in a private holding cell, figuring that the DePaul freshman was not suited to mingle with the other inmates. After a few hours, he was processed and released. At his court date a month later, the judge told him to go home and wiped his record clean.

Had Bill’s unfortunate run in with DePaul Public Safety occurred just a year later, he may have saved himself a ride in the squad car. In 2017, Chicago police officers arrested a record-low 3,168 people for cannabis-related offenses, according to a WBEZ analysis of Chicago police data, which police say is the result of shifting more focus toward violent crimes around the city.     

But no matter how much trouble you can get in with an eighth of weed in the city or on campus, students living in the dorms will always find a way to get their smoke.

“It’s not necessarily that there is a hard part [to smoking while living in the dorms], it’s just there is a right and wrong way,” one DePaul student housing resident and smoker, who asked to stay anonymous, said. “You can be lazy and smoke in your room and get caught — which is what my neighbors did — or you could be a little bit more inconspicuous.”

The student told The DePaulia that in dorms with community showers, stoners have a popular refuge. By turning the hot water on while you smoke, the steam rises and carries the smoke into the vents, removing — or at least thinning out — that familiar odor. Other, bolder students rely on the age-old methods of cross ventilation, air-freshener and a rolled up towel at the base of the door, to enjoy their evening or weekend from the comfort of their on-campus living quarters.

“The only reason people really smoke inside is when it’s really cold,” the same student said. “I find that it’s not a huge deal to do it outside in semi-public, depending on the neighborhood.”

They said that they estimate between 40 and 50 percent of the students in their dorm are casual cannabis smokers, which can make getting caught somewhat random. When Bill was arrested at Clifton Fullerton Hall in 2016, he said the student that sold him the product and other frequent smokers all lived across the hall. With a significant portion of students in possession of and using cannabis, even the most methodical smokers can take the fall for a building full of potheads.