A medical marijuana plant is shown at the Northwest Patient Resource Center medical marijuana dispensary Nov. 7 in Seattle. After voters weighed in on election day, Colorado and Washington became the first states to allow legal pot for recreational use, but they are likely to face resistance from federal regulations.
Colorado and Washington state legalized the recreational use of marijuana last Tuesday, sparking conversation about federal policies that prohibit marijuana use on college campuses.
The new state laws will legalize the personal possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for those who are 21 or older, starting on Dec. 6 in Washington and no later than Jan. 5 in Colorado, USA TODAY reported.
The fate of the laws, however, depends on whether the federal government takes action to block them.
“The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will,” Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said in reference to the new Colorado law, according to USA TODAY. “This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly.”
A similar ballot measure failed in Oregon, and voters approved the legalization of medical marijuana in Massachusetts, making it the 18th state to do so, last week.
Many schools, including the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder) and the University of Washington, don’t anticipate that they’ll be changing their drug policies any time in the near future, USA TODAY reported Monday.
“At this point, the university certainly anticipates that it will continue prohibiting the drug,” said Paul Teske, dean of the school of public affairs at UC-Denver.
Officials at Colorado and Washington schools have cited the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (DFSCA) as their reason for prohibiting marijuana possession and use on campuses despite the new state laws. The act mandates that universities that receive federal funding “prevent the unlawful possession, use or distribution of illicit drugs and alcohol by students and employees” and issue sanctions for violations.
Schools, therefore, are at risk of losing federal funding if they fail to comply.
In fact, marijuana and medical marijuana use on campuses has been a subject of conversation and controversy at schools in the past few years.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law this past April a bill that specifically prohibits medical marijuana possession and use on public university and college campuses in the state, where the drug became legalized in 2010. The bill ensures that schools don’t jeopardize their federal funding, regardless of whether a student or faculty member has a prescription.
But Aaron Houston, the executive director of the national organization Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) — which promotes student involvement in drug policy reform — said that he believes the DFSCA argument doesn’t hold merit.
In a briefing that the organization filed in May, the SSDP cites data from the Department of Education, indicating that no college or university has ever lost funding from the Federal Student Aid Program as a result of violating the act.
In addition, after Connecticut decriminalized the possession of less than a half-ounce of marijuana last year, the University of Connecticut (UConn) implemented a new policy in February that equalized penalties for small amounts of marijuana and the underage possession of alcohol, according to The Daily Campus, the school’s newspaper.
The school’s SSDP chapter proposed the changes, ultimately gaining the approval of the student government and administrators.
“We feel marijuana possession and use is a victimless crime, and it’s a nonviolent crime,” UConn senior and the school’s SSDP chapter president Frank Cervo said. “There are other crimes that are a lot more serious … that might not be addressed because law enforcement is busting kids for pot possession.”
Several schools, though, are currently uncertain about the implications of the more recent state laws.
Washington State University, for example, will “review the new law before adopting any new policies or making any changes in existing policies to ensure compliance with state and federal laws,” the school said in a statement. The University of Denver (DU) is “carefully reviewing the ramifications of Amendment 64 and how it may impact [the school],” said Kim DeVigil, DU’s senior director of communications, who also noted that DU is a smoke-free campus.
Some colleges in Massachusetts also have yet to determine whether to permit medical marijuana on campus.
The Harvard Crimson reported that university administrators have not yet decided whether Harvard will allow medical marijuana on campus for students with prescriptions after the law takes effect Jan. 1, 2013. Health Services will complete an internal review to determine patient need for the drug.
Communicating with students is crucial to clarifying the state laws and whether college campuses will be affected, CU-Boulder spokesman Bronson Hilliard said.
“What happens in this instance is that people hear the term legalization and think it applies to all kinds of marijuana in all conditions, but we’re telling students and others to read the language of the amendment itself,” Hilliard said. “The amendment does not permit smoking [marijuana] on campus.”
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