You’d think college campuses would be havens for the marijuana community. They’re liberal, they’re full of young people smoking dope for the first time, and a few of them celebrate special cannabis holidays.
But try lighting up a J on campus most days, and you’re more likely to encounter hostility than acceptance. Terrified of federal laws than ban any use of the drug, colleges are making life more difficult for students who use weed medicinally.
According to a report in The Boston Globe, some schools are making accommodations to help students who need pot to treat health conditions. The state’s voters legalized medical marijuana in 2012, and dispensaries are expected to open across the state within several weeks.
In Massachusetts, most colleges and universities explicitly ban the use of cannabis anywhere on campus for any reason, including medical need, The Globe reported. Penalties can be severe, including expulsion or loss of scholarship funds. That puts legitimate patients in a serious bind when they go to college.
“I’m scared I’m either going to go under-medicated and suffer physical consequences if I can’t use my medicine enough, or I’m going to face consequences from the school if I get caught,” said Max, an incoming freshman at Boston University.
Max said he’s certified by a Massachusetts physician to use marijuana as treatment for gastrointestinal problems that caused him to lose too much weight and gave him stomach pains. But BU bans cannabis use even for patients with state certification.
Institutions of higher learning in the United States depend heavily on federal grant money, and they’re terrified of losing it. An angry Congress could strip the funds if colleges are too lenient toward the drug, which is banned for any use under federal law.
It’s not clear they would succeed. Antagonism toward medical weed is strongest in the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Republicans. The Democratic Senate, on the other hand, would be less likely to punish schools for tolerating some pot use.
And President Obama has said his administration won’t interfere with states where marijuana is legal for medical or recreational use. The Department of Justice, which announced the policy last year, hasn’t made any promises not to penalize colleges, but that seems unlikely given the president’s stance on legalization.
But college administrations feel they can’t afford to risk their grants. So toking is strictly banned on almost all campuses, if not all. That includes Colorado and Washington, where weed was legalized in 2012.
But patients and their advocates say the zero tolerance policies are out of date and unnecessary.
“We would like to see schools recognize, as many states and millions and millions of individuals and doctors have done, that marijuana is in fact valid medicine for the patients that are using it, and treating it differently than other medications is harmful to students and faculty who have chosen to use medical marijuana,” said Betty Aldworth, director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
Some schools, including BU, help student patients find alternative ways to use the drug. Students may be able to opt-out of student housing, for example, so they can live off campus and smoke up on private property.
“We’d work with the student on that sort of thing,” said Kenneth Elmore, dean of students at BU.
But he noted that the school’s ban applies to all weed.
“We don’t make a distinction between medical and recreational marijuana,” Elmore said. “We simply don’t allow marijuana on our campus. Federally, it is illegal, and smoking causes disruptions on campus.”
None of this means students don’t toke on campus. Scratch any college anywhere in America, including Bible schools in the Deep South, and you’ll find plenty of active stoners.
Students are masters at manipulating RAs into letting them smoke in their rooms. They commonly puff in frat houses and sororities. And at some campus events – notably Northwestern University’s ‘Dillo Day – getting high is almost a requirement for graduation.