Katie Catterall is a sophomore journalism major and writes “In Between the Lines” for The Daily News. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.

The beginning of the school year brings a whirlwind of activity, including “Welcome Week.” This blanket term is a series of events organized by Ball State every fall to help students begin acclimating to campus and making new connections. With these new connections made, students off campus often throw parties the first week of school to kick off the beginning of the year. The scent of alcohol in the air, crowds of people and pounding music are just a few things I have experienced at college parties, but there is a hidden side of college partying many don’t consider. 

The reality is drinking can turn dangerous within a short amount of time, and college students are one of the most at-risk demographics of experiencing the sometimes-deadly consequences of a night out. Reports from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism show an estimated 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related injuries each year— whether that is alcohol poisoning or motor vehicle crashes.

Now more than ever, it is even more dangerous to be drinking and partying. Crowds of people packed in a room and bottles passed around for many people to share will only aid in the spread of COVID-19. 

So, how can college students party more responsibly? In times like this, there really is no safe way to throw a party with the expectation not to share anything; however, looking at possible solutions to the issue of binge drinking is still necessary. I believe an alternative to alcohol may prove to be a good solution to reduce this risky behavior: the legalization of marijuana.

Smoking while a respiratory virus is surging doesn’t seem safe in general; however, experts report cannabis doesn’t affect the lungs the same way tobacco does. A University of California San Francisco study published in 2012 following 5,000 Americans for nearly 20 years found cannabis smoke is less damaging to the lungs than tobacco smoke, despite many of the same components being present in both.

Smoking marijuana has become more popular at college parties already, especially in states where it is legal recreationally. A recent study from Oregon State University shows within the first year of legalization, marijuana usage increased among college students for both the occasional user and the frequent user. 

It is important to note that marijuana also has its downsides. For one, sharing joints or pieces — an object such as a pipe or water bong that people use to smoke marijuana from— during a pandemic is highly irresponsible. Also, there is always the risk that the product could be laced if you choose to accept a joint or piece from someone. While marijuana could be beneficial in reducing binge drinking and reducing stress and anxiety among students, ignoring the risks it poses at the moment due to the pandemic would be irresponsible. Marijuana is not an end-all solution to the problem, but it is a step in the right direction.   

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has even reported there have been zero deaths from marijuana. Not only that, but the American Journal of Public Health concluded from a 16-year study of more than 65,000 Americans that healthy marijuana users do not have an increased risk of dying earlier than non-marijuana users.

Over the span of my freshman year, I got sick many times from drinking. Some will argue college students just need to learn their limits. While this might be true, we should not be waiting until people are injured, or even killed, from alcohol to promote making changes.

What type of society are we if we sit by and allow people to run the risk of becoming addicted and potentially die when there is clearly a safer alternative? 

If students are going to party this week, regardless of the dangers of COVID-19, we need to increase their safety. Legalizing weed is a step in the right direction. The objective is not to completely eliminate partying or drinking because the reality is partying is just a part of college culture. But by acknowledging the issue of binge drinking and identifying marijuana as a safer alternative, we are taking responsibility for the health of our students. 

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