“We have students who are still developing and figuring things out,” Gonzales said. “So, if we have to be punitive, we will, but we would rather be educational and have conversations with our students, remind them of policies, maybe send them to some educational workshops—rather than going the route of just citing them right away. Knowing that [marijuana] is legal if someone is 21 or over, yeah, we see it more like a low-level alcohol than a drug violation.”
Meanwhile, evolving medical marijuana laws also create tricky situations for school health administrators: campus health departments dispense medications, but they can’t obtain and give students medical marijuana because it’s federally prohibited.
WSU for its part will waive the requirement that freshmen students live in on-campus dorms if a student presents medical-marijuana documentation. CU Boulder does the same.
Lynn Pasquerella, president of Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, a state where possession and consumption of medical marijuana is legal for qualifying patients, said she raised the issue with the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts.
But the association also finds itself treading murky waters.
“Bottom line: there’s a clear conflict between state laws, public opinion, and current federal statute,” said Richard Doherty, the association’s president. “Informal—and, in some cases, conflicting—Department of Justice guidance is not enough. Desire for clarity continues to grow as more and more states adopt differing laws.”
Mount Holyoke is reviewing its medical marijuana policies. While no students currently use medical cannabis, and no students have requested to use it, Pasquerella said the administration is “trying to be proactive.”
“The best we can do is to come up with a policy that we think best meets the health-care needs of our students and then to look at what our options are under federal law,” she said. “So, if we propose to our attorneys that we would like to be able to administer medical marijuana in the health center, and we’re told, ‘no, you can’t do that,’ then could we arrange to have it distributed and taken off site? Would that still place us at risk?”
“I think one of the best things we can do is to draw attention to the dilemma that we’re faced with and try to be an advocate for the health-care needs of our patients who are residents here—and the risk that we’re under as a result of the inconsistency with federal law,” Pasquerella continued.
While schools must adhere to the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act, some students have endeavored to implement small-scale or symbolic changes to make on-campus and off-campus policies more consistent.
Students at the University of Connecticut, pushed for reform on campus several years ago after the state in 2011 decriminalized small amounts of marijuana possession. The UConn chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy launched a successful campaign to standardize the responses to underage drinking and cannabis possession. As a result, instead of immediately calling police, resident assistants have more discretion in how they handle disciplinary action.