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An Open-Ended Letter to the University That Arrested Me for Smoking Weed

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Editor’s Note: This extremely well-articulated letter was submitted to High Times, and we liked it so much, that we decided to publish it unedited in its entirety below. 

Dear William Paterson University,

It has been one year and four months to the day that I was arrested on your campus for a meager dime bag laid upon my apartment desk. The immediately ensuing legal and financial nightmare was exhausting, expensive and fundamentally counterintuitive to my clear desire to successfully complete and attain a degree at your University. I ask you today, so many moons later and having since graduated and begun reflecting on my many experiences within your walls: was it worth it?

I mean, really, was worth it?

On the night itself I was handcuffed (seriously), bullied into opening my apartment door, cursed at and treated by your officers with the sort of disrespect I, personally, would never have the actual capacity to possess in dealing with a fellow human being. I was taken by police car to the “Department of Public Safety” which, to this day, is the grayest, saddest and most grossly mis-titled building I have ever had the displeasure of entering.

I ask, whose safety were you protecting that night?

I was treated like a criminal and, according to the laws of the state of New Jersey, I was one – but I ask you, if you don’t mind this series of questioning:

What else was I?

For the record, I was an honors student completing my third year within your college,  attaining Dean’s List each semester prior and expecting to receive it again for the one at hand. I was sitting confidently on a 3.8 GPA, hosting two radio shows a week, managing the station’s music department, volunteering my time to advocate for the college to incoming freshmen at scholarship breakfasts and generating considerable internal press for having spent multiple spring breaks volunteering for United Way on behalf of the University.

At the specific time in question I was recovering from a bout of mono that kept me out of nearly three full weeks of classes in the thick of April, barely able to move back on campus to finish the semester and therefore smoking marijuana daily to alleviate the pain and exhaustion of a sickness that antibiotics had very little effect on. I was looking towards a summer, as well, in which I had been asked to star in an off-off-broadway production, a parody of Richard the Third called You Don’t Know Dick on 42nd street, and to begin work mentoring and camp counseling children within New Jersey’s Child Protection and Permanency department, formerly and commonly known as DYFS.

Before crucifying me for a laundry list of achievements, understand that they all really mean very little to me – I note them only to display, in full color and beyond dispute, the fact that I was an engaged, successful member of the student community for the entirety of my time as an undergraduate student… that is, until the night I was arrested.

For all intents and purposes on that night I was a nobody, a criminal, cast away and handcuffed by a school I thought cared for me over less than five dollars worth of week-old weed sitting, hilariously enough, on top of a textbook I had borrowed from a professor to continue an independent study. Helpless and broke (needing financial aid just to remain in school, let alone deal with legal fees) I was made suddenly a small casualty of the stinking, failing mess that is the war on drugs in our confused country, and found myself packing up for summer with my station wagon, notebooks, wardrobe, and pending drug charge.

*** I was smoking that night, in case you were curious, because above and beyond its (albeit unprescribed) medicinal benefits it was the last night of the semester, I was with some friends, and we were going to smoke a little bit of weed, something I did weekly throughout the four years I attended class as did many, if not all, of my friends. Excessive? Sure. But stop by any college apartment, note the graveyard of alcohol bottles, and lets engage in a discussion of the detrimental effects of each substance.
Spoiler: It’s not going to go well. ***

All told, the experience cost me over $1,200 – not to mention the incalculable emotional cost of a bumbling public defendant that lost files and stained ties, a family disappointed and confused by such a dramatic charge, and the constant, nagging sensation that I had somehow failed – that I was somehow guilty of something everyone else I knew did too, but never faced the ramifications of – a stoned scape goat, if you will.

I was given a conditional discharge, forced to urinate in a cup in Hackensack randomly over the course of six months (a practice I have continued, unofficially and in street alleys, for sheer pleasure since) and ended up having to represent myself in the courtroom come December to conclude the discharge as my lawyer, assigned by the state, refused to pick up my calls, forcing me to print transcripts and receive letters of support from therapists and professors to hopefully assure its conclusion.

As of January 16th, 2015 I am no longer in our state’s silly doghouse, but the experience’s marks, both professionally and personally, remain to this day. Maybe this letter is pointless, I’m not deaf to the counterargument that my anger and frustration should be directed at a state mindlessly perpetuating the prohibition of marijuana, but there’s a reason I’m writing to you, William Paterson, ol’ willy p, and here’s why:

There is no reason why there is not a system put in place to protect and assist students on campus caught and charged with the possession of marijuana. For an institution of higher learning to have such a backwards and dramatic system of penalization for a substance so widely accepted across the world is embarrassing and elementary. If your website is true, pretty with the millions we’ve given you, and your ultimate goal is genuinely to “help our students develop and strengthen the skills they need to achieve success,” why are you prowling their apartments and arresting them for smoking joints on a Saturday nights?

I don’t expect you to legalize it, and I surely don’t expect you to invite me to Hobart Manor on 4/20, but there is no reason why students who have continuously proven their worth and intellect should suffer so needlessly for partaking in a substance that, in my case, was used primarily as an attempt to cope with the anxieties induced by the social torrent of college – an attempt to find some small corner of peace within my head that therapy was not able to produce for me, and that I have since begun to find via prescribed medication.

I could go on and on, and so, so much of me wants to, but I will end it here.

I will forever appreciate the opportunities afforded to me as a student at William Paterson University, and the colossal importance of coming from modest means and achieving a bachelor’s degree, the first in my family, will never be lost on me, I can assure you.

All I can ask for is a genuine, educated answer to this question:

Was it worth arresting me, and successful students like me, for marijuana dust? Would it not benefit the students, the campus, and the institution as a whole to protect the very same students you splay across social media and NJ Transit busses in a desperate attempt to convince strangers to attend?

I felt, and still feel wronged by you, and until action is taken to protect and serve students who have committed victimless “crime” I have no respect for you and your treatment of the students you pretend to champion and care for.

Sincerely,

Eric Dolan

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