It’s Friday afternoon. A student gets out of class and decides to smoke some marijuana. As he passes around the bong with his roommates, he hears knocks on the dorm room door: it’s the police. What happens next?
“Unfortunately it’s still illegal in Indiana, and we as police officers have all the authority within the law to arrest and incarcerate you,” Purdue University Police Department Capt. Song Kang said.
In an arrest, officers generally have broad discretion and can choose to give a citation instead of booking people into jail, Kang said. A citation results in the subject being released from the scene, but still counts as an “arrest.” The conditions for a possible citation include the subject being cooperative, not dealing or selling marijuana and being a first-time offender.
Kang said Purdue police officers have issued citations more often than arrests during the pandemic, in order to reduce the flow of more people into jail.
“Now, just because we give you a ticket doesn’t mean it’s not an arrest,” Kang said. “From the legal point of view, it’s the same thing as being arrested, and it will follow you as an arrest record. You’ll still have to show up to a court hearing.”
Students who are arrested for illegal substance use face more than just time in court.
“Students who are cited for possession of an illegal drug, such as marijuana, are subject to conduct action as outlined in the Student Regulations,” Jeffery Stefancic, associate dean of students, said.
Students with no history of misconduct typically receive a disciplinary warning or probation along with mandatory drug education or community service from the Office of Student Rights and Responsibility. Repeat offenders or drug distributors may face more severe penalties, up to expulsion, Stefancic said.
When a student is convicted of a drug-related offense, they could lose eligibility for federal student aid, which includes grants, loans and eligibility for the federal work-study program. Convicted students may also be required to pay back financial aid received during the period of ineligibility, according to the Office of Federal Student Aid.
Kang said the police department encourages arrested students to hire an attorney or consult with student legal services on campus.
“The last thing we want to see is giving somebody a ticket, (that person) not understanding it correctly and not showing up on a court date,” Kang said. “Judges usually don’t like that so they will issue an arrest warrant.”
For students who have recently been arrested, Indianapolis-based lawyer Andrew Maternowski, a Purdue alumnus, offers legal services all over the state of Indiana free of charge.
“I could not have gone through Purdue or law school without financial aid,” Maternowski said. “So I decided one of the things that I could do to say ‘thank you’ would be to help students who were in a similar situation: risking getting thrown out of school for what should be legal.”
Maternowski, who has represented students from all over the state in marijuana cases for over 30 years, said a large number of students are first-time offenders with a small amount of marijuana. They will usually end up in a diversion program, which is an agreement to lessen legal repercussions given that the offender completes rehabilitation requirements in a certain amount of time. An offender gains the eligibility to have the case expunged from public record a year after completing the program and having the case dismissed, Maternowski said.
“Of the students that I have represented over the years, only one or two have ended up getting convictions because they managed to pick up a second or a third case while doing their diversion,” Maternowski said. “Then the prosecutor says, ‘Look, you didn’t learn after your first arrest. We’re going to prosecute you, and you will end up getting a misdemeanor.’”
Maternowski advises students to stay focused on their education and not risk the consequences of a drug violation.
“Like it or not, there is no amount of marijuana that is legal (in Indiana),” Maternowski said. “If you want to smoke pot, go to Illinois or Michigan where it’s legal, but not in Indiana.”
Correction: This story previously stated that Andrew Maternowski was a lawyer based in West Lafayette. He is based in Indianapolis.