Students who are caught with drugs should not be reported to the police but could be given help to get more money, the NUS has said.
In a joint report with the drug activist group Release, the student body said discipline for drug taking should include “support to access a bursary if a student is facing financial pressure”.
It also called for students found taking drugs in their accommodation to be merely given a warning, rather than evicted.
‘Taking the Hit’ analysed both student and university approaches to drugs through a questionnaire and freedom of information requests.
It is for Parliament, not the NUS, to decide the law on drugs.
Of 2,810 students who responded, 39 per cent claimed to currently use drugs, with cannabis the most common substance.
Over half of drug users said they had taken cocaine, with two thirds admitting to taking ecstasy.
Reasons for taking drugs included attempts to “enhance their social interactions” and to attempt to deal with stress.
Just 14 per cent had “come into contact with the criminal justice system” as a result of taking drugs.
According to the report, most universities and colleges used ‘formal warnings’ in their repertoire of actions against students in possession of illegal drugs.
Only around one in four incidents in 2016-17 were actually taken to the authorities.
In response, the NUS called for ‘flexible’ disciplinary outcomes.
“This should also consider whether alternative outcomes might better tackle the root cause of drug-related misconduct (eg support to access a bursary if a student is facing financial pressure)”.
“Students should not be reported to the police or permanently excluded from their studies for simply possessing a drug”, it added.
But Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, said drug use “needs to be made far less socially acceptable”.
Such substances, he said, “are profoundly damaging on the minds of the young, especially those with a propensity for mental health problems”.
Chris McGovern of the Campaign for Real Education said: “It is for Parliament, not the NUS, to decide the law on drugs.
“University authorities should not involve themselves in aiding and abetting criminal behaviour at the behest of student leaders.”