Cannabis on Campus: Why Does Marijuana Legalization End in College?
(Spoiler Alert: It’s Congress’s fault.)
It’s mid-September, and across the country, college football season is in full swing. Students at many universities have been back at school for almost a month, and hovering over other idyllic campus quads is the unmistakable smell of marijuana. It smells different this year, with cannabis legal in states where more than 65 million Americans live, but it shouldn’t — at most schools, marijuana still smells like a cause for removal from housing and dismissal from school, just as it always has.
Numerous major college campuses have banned cannabis possession — even in states where recreational marijuana is legal for adults. These include all campuses of the University of California, including its flagship Berkeley campus, the University of Washington and the University of Oregon. “You may possess and use recreational marijuana only if you are 21 and older,” the U of O student handbook warns. “Just not on campus.”
At the private University of Southern California, one of Berkeley’s main rivals, cannabis smoking is prohibited, though that hasn’t stopped the student newspaper from publishing a list of the best places to smoke weed on campus (they ultimately suggest smoking off campus, as it’s against the rules to even possess cannabis at USC).
Without exception, universities whose policies were examined by Cannabis Now made no distinction between medical and recreational cannabis, and as such, their bans included medical marijuana as well as recreational. This poses a real conundrum for college students who need to use cannabis medicinally, including sufferers of Crohn’s disease and intractable seizures as well as anyone with chronic pain or PTSD. Are you a military veteran and would you like to take advantage of your GI Bill benefits? Great, but figure out a way to keep the night terrors away that isn’t cannabis.
Even in Arizona, where a state Supreme Court decision threw out an Arizona State University student’s conviction for marijuana possession and ruled that banning weed on campus violates the state constitution, campuses are holding fast to bans. (It helps that the state attorney general is trying to have the decision, made after an ASU student was arrested for possessing 0.4 grams of cannabis despite holding a medical-marijuana recommendation, overturned by a higher court.)
The justifications used by Northern Arizona University for its blanket prohibitions are typical: federal law outlaws the plant, and any institution receiving federal funding is supposed to follow federal law. What’s more, state and federal drug-free workplace laws also mean a campus is supposed to take a hard line on weed.
All this is to say that the odds are against Tara Chattoraj. Chattoraj is a student senator at the University of Illinois. Illinois has a limited medical-marijuana program, but like everywhere else in the country, cannabis is not allowed on campus for anyone. This is forcing medical cannabis patients to break rules and risk expulsion to achieve their preferred medical treatment.
Earlier this month, Chattoraj introduced a resolution urging the university to rethink its policies. “Basically, [the only way to take their medication is] either working it out with [residence directors] and [resident advisers] or doing it illegally,” Chattoraj told the Daily Illini. “They don’t have a lot of options, unfortunately. Mostly they have to hide it and lie about it.”
That’s stupid. But that’s the status quo, and campus administrators told the paper that that’s the way it must remain — unless federal policy changes. And given Republicans in Congress last week tried to block modest marijuana bills from even having a full discussion, that milestone is still some ways away.
It bears mentioning that none of this applies to private institutions, which are free to set whatever rules they please, along with attendant penalties for violating them — however, they also must follow federal cannabis rules if they want their professors to be able to apply for federal research grants. So ultimately, anyone living in subsidized housing similarly enjoys exercising state law — i.e., their rights — at their own risk.
TELL US, do you think college campuses should re-evaluate their positions on cannabis use?