Are Students Who Use Cannabis Putting College Funding at Risk?

Looking into a college dorm room may dig up some papers covered in red ink, discarded (and unread) textbooks, boxes of uneaten ramen, and mostly-eaten pizza. Likely, it will also turn up some form of paraphernalia. Maybe a pipe, a bong, some papers, or even an edible. In fact, marijuana-use is now at a 30-year high in college-aged youth. Still, many college students wonder, in states with recreational or medical weed, is it okay to use marijuana on university campuses?

In Massachusetts, recreational weed has been legalized and will soon be put into effect. But many college campuses in the state approach this heated dilemma differently. The question of whether or not colleges can ban weed on campuses in states with legal weed goes back to one major conflict. In the US, weed is still illegal federally. Because of this and because universities receive federal funding, many colleges maintain tight rules surrounding weed use. In Massachusetts where recreational legalization will soon go into effect, many schools want to govern the student weed-use on campus and off. Not initiating these rules regarding pot could potentially risk these schools’ federal funding, no matter the state laws.

The Climate in Massachusetts is Budding

Massachusetts’ recent legalization has opened up new opportunities for those in the cannabis industry. Cannabis companies can now bank at credit unions in the state. Also, the state has invested in census studies to better understand the industry—seeking to learn about things like gender and race disparities within the industry itself. But even with the positive momentum, the cannabis industry faces many obstacles for full acceptance in the state.

For instance, many municipalities in MA decided to ban marijuana retail. And many universities not only fall under the jurisdiction of these municipalities, but they continue to follow federal law. Because of this, university administrators feel stuck. They can follow federal law that prohibits the use of weed on the premises of universities. Following this law guarantees them the federal funding used on student aid or research.

Or these schools can find a solution that attends to new state laws about medical and recreational cannabis-use.

The Case for Cannabis on MA Campuses

Federal and state policies on the subject conflict in Massachusetts. Other states have ruling in favor of and against the use of medical marijuana on campus. But MA currently allows its colleges to decide these rules themselves. Jeffrey A. Miron, a Harvard economist, points to the truth of the issue. If universities were to enforce a strict campus policy on weed, according to federal law, a large amount of the student body would face expulsion. Students and faculty are aware of this upper-hand. They remark that though not legal on campuses, weed-use is largely overlooked by campus authorities.

In fact, some compare legal cannabis-use in dorm rooms to drinking alcohol by legal-aged students. They argue that since the schools allow drinking, they should also allow the use of legal cannabis. For many students, the effect of using pot can even feel safer than alcohol. But even with this, universities still provide rules around using pot. At Harvard, using cannabis cannot happen “on Harvard property or as part of a Harvard activity.” And at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), they state they do not restrict the lawful use or possession of marijuana off-campus. Even so, those students must follow the laws in Cambridge where city ordinance prohibits public use.

The on/off campus loophole helps. For colleges with a lot of students living off campus like University of Massachusetts, rules about using cannabis on campus don’t seem as tough to follow. Instead, these students are encouraged to “have fun without marijuana,” even while the administration stays honest about the reality of students medicating.

Medical Marijuana Users Face Same Campus Rules

But for those students using medical cannabis, these rules can seem complex. For example, while Smith College requires student residence on-campus, they allow students who use medical weed to live off. Most students facing this predicament receive similar responses—use it off campus, medical or recreational.

In the end, these MA students won’t face time in a jail cell for smoking a J on campus. But still at risk? That federal funding all universities need.

Canadians Give it the College Try

While the US continues to make major gains regarding legal weed use, they still pale compared to Canada. The forward-thinking Canucks have already faced the problem of approaching legal cannabis use on college campuses. To their advantage, this year the country will have legal weed across all provinces. Nonetheless, the country’s universities factor student pot-use, both for medical and recreational purposes.

For Canadian students at the University of Alberta, for example, they should consume pot in designated areas. And the University of Calgary, students can feel secure that a safe space exists should they end up too stoned to study for that final. As the US faces its own impending federal case for legal weed, these options for college campus weed use can serve as an example to follow.

The Future is Faded

No matter the restrictions put on college students, they’re likely still consuming weed. Outside of Massachusetts, colleges offer educational tracks for those interested in a career in cannabis. In Ohio, a “Cannabis Lab Tech” major can be declared at one college. At a university in Michigan, a student can earn a degree in “marijuana studies.” And while the possibility of being discriminated against because of weed use still looms, students have noticed some positive effects because of weed. In fact, some students have received scholarships because of cannabis taxes, like in Colorado.

So, while many universities cannot allow the cannabis-use for fear of losing federal funding, the potential for that to change seems probable. In a few years, those holding doctoral degrees in marijuana studies may have weekly lectures on campuses. And, maybe their students will be able to enjoy weed without fear.



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