It’s 7 p.m. on a Wednesday evening and a skunk scent fills the hazy sky above the city of Tampa’s Riverwalk. This is one of the city’s hottest smoke spots, right between Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park’s children’s playground and the Tampa Police Department (TPD).
For years, students and locals have been lighting up just steps from The University of Tampa campus. The Riverwalk’s famed “Colosseum,” an amphitheater built into the Riverwalk’s concrete wall, is one of the most popular spots to hang out at and roll a joint.
Roy, a full-time kitchen staff member and Tampa local who requested to remain anonymous, is one of the regulars who comes to the Riverwalk almost every weekend with his friends to smoke.
“I love it here,” said Roy. “I sell [marijuana]. I can make so much money here, especially with UT kids coming over all of the time.”
Roy’s friend, a UT student who also requested to remain anonymous, helps him out by referring him to many of the people who come out to buy and smoke. Roy weighs out the grams while his friend talks to some potential buyers.
“Funny stuff happens here,” the friend said. “One time a guy smoked too much and started greening out, he tried to jump in the river and swim to the other side.”
But the intention behind the Colosseum was not to provide a picturesque spot by the river with views of the Tampa skyline for getting high. The amphitheater was originally created for small plays, shows, and events. But with little to no shows taking place there for years, the Colosseum has become a small abandoned part of downtown where smokers can easily enjoy hanging out together.
The railroad tracks that run through downtown is another one of the city’s most popular places to get high. With only a quick walk across the bridge from UT’s campus, students have used these spots to avoid the campus’ strict drug and alcohol policies. Despite both locations being steps from campus and a few blocks from TPD, these smokers go almost undetected by law enforcement.
“We try to educate our students not to use any drugs, but we realize students will travel outside of campus,” said Samuel Ponce, assistant director of Campus Safety. “If you do travel outside of campus you are to adhere to all Florida Statutes; the Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office will enforce those statutes.”
A UT junior who requested to remain anonymous, has been smoking there since her freshman year. She said the colosseum is her favorite place in the city to smoke [marijuana].
“I have never even heard of cops being at [the colosseum and railroad tracks] or anyone being busted,” she said. “I think the cops definitely know about it though.”
Many students like her believe that the strong odor and large crowds that the Colosseum and railroad tracks draw have not fooled TPD. But the lack of action still confuses some students.
“I don’t think we are doing anything wrong,” said Roy’s friend, while picking up rolling paper. “We’re just having fun, but it is weird to think that the cops are right down there.”
For some students, this is not the case. During his freshman year, a UT student who goes by Jay, was caught by TPD and Campus Safety on his walk back to UT from smoking at the Colosseum.
“We took two steps onto campus in front of Plant Hall and got stopped by a TPD officer,” said Jay.
After investigating, only one of the students in the group, who was carrying less than a gram of marijuana and the bowl, was charged by TPD with a $75 civil citation. Jay and the rest of the group were transferred to Campus Safety where they received a $200 fine, 10 hours of community service, a letter to their parents, and were required to take UT’s drug and alcohol prevention course, “Choices.”
“They don’t bust everyone because then people would just go to more secluded spots and make it harder to find them,” said Jay. “They wouldn’t get any money from that.”
While UT’s Campus Safety is aware of the number of students participating in off-campus smoke sessions, their jurisdiction still only falls under on-campus activity. For students like Jay and his friends, this meant that while TPD did not charge all of them, Campus Safety was able to write all of them up to UT’s student conduct.
“TPD works very hard to maintain the safety of our campus and the surrounding communities they patrol, and we maintain a great working relationship with them,” said Ponce.
This partnership between TPD and Campus Safety has been promoted many times by UT for keeping students safe. But, Jay believes it was just luck that he happened to run into the officers, the first and only time he smoked at the Colosseum.
“We only got caught because we chose a poor time to go [smoke],” said Jay.