What Happens When The UNLPD Makes A Campus Pot Bust?

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If you’re a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and are involved in a pot bust, what exactly is the arrest process and over what amount can you go to jail? Well, one thing is for sure, students still clearly favor alcohol over marijuana—but it’s a close second. In fact, University Police Sgt. Dave Dibelka estimated that 97 percent of arrests made are marijuana related, compared to all other drugs.

The majority of marijuana-related calls to the UNLPD results in a citation for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, because marijuana is decriminalized in Nebraska. State law expresses that possession of one ounce to one pound of marijuana is a Class III misdemeanor. “It’s like a traffic ticket,” Dibelka said. “It’s a violation of the law, but it’s not a misdemeanor arrest. I can’t take you to jail for speeding. You just get a ticket and go because the punishment for speeding does not include any jail time. You can’t go to jail for it unless you’ve already had two previous convictions.”

If you’re involved in a pot bust and are found to be holding more than one pound, however, is a Class IV felony in the state. The officer couldn’t recall any recent cases of students dealing marijuana on campus but said it has happened in the past. “Rarely, hardly ever do we see that on campus,” Dibelka said. “If it’s more than a pound, you’ve pretty much established right there that that person’s a dealer. They’re probably not the Walter White type dealers from ‘Breaking Bad,’ but yet they were buying marijuana and then selling it.”

Only if a pot bust is big enough do the UNLPD turn it over to the Lincoln-Lancaster County Narcotics Unit. All UNL student arrests are reported to Student Affairs. Student Housing often issues “referrals” to students in violation of laws or rules, such as smoking marijuana. Most complaints about marijuana use in student dorms usually come from a community resource officer or residence assistant, who are trained by UNLPD, or a neighbor.

“It’s never a good idea to smoke in a dorm room,” Dibelka said. “Whether it’s by a community service officer, a resident assistant or if we’re doing a walk-through, you’re going to get caught. We know what’s going on. When it’s 10 degrees outside, and you have your windows open. And we can hear your blinds blowing in the wind, and we can see something under the door… Come on.”

University students are expected to obey state laws and the Student Code of Conduct, which specifies against drug use—which includes Student Housing, which also has its own drug (and alcohol) policies. The contract for students clearly states that it is a violation to be in a room where drugs are present. It also reads that university conduct hearing officers will use preponderance of evidence in their decisions including “concealment activities such as, but not limited to: …open window when temperatures are very cold or very hot; rug or similar barrier under the room door; burning incense or candles; use of dryer sheets, etc.”

If a student is caught smoking pot in the dorms they are required to attend a drug education class. The students may also be subject to anything from behavioral requirements to expulsion. But for all the problems caused by drugs, officer Dibelka does have his preferences. “For me as a law enforcement officer – not to speak for every single law enforcement officer at UNL – I would much rather deal with somebody who is high than intoxicated,” Dibelka said. “People who are high are usually pretty relaxed, laid back. There’s really not going to be many issues for us whereas when we deal with intoxicated people, we never know with the emotions. They can go from cooperative to violent. I’ve never met anybody violent who was smoking marijuana.”

Since 2010, the Annual Campus Security Report said the number of arrests relating to marijuana are two to three times lower than those of liquor law violations. There’s an even wider gap between the two in terms of referrals – the write-ups issued by Student Housing.