Dear Universities, Why Won’t You Let Me Smoke Weed?

By Hannah Yale

Recent years have shown that medical use of cannabis can be effective in treating anxiety, PTSD, muscle spasticity, chronic pain, and even epilepsy. It can be a life-saving medication or a tool to relax enough to study. And yet, medical marijuana is still not permitted on many college campuses across the United States. The discrepancies between federal and state marijuana laws are at the heart of the issue when it comes to navigating the legality of weed on campus.

The 1970 Controlled Substances Act classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic with “no health benefits.” Although cannabis has been scientifically proven to treat some mental and physical ailments, this antiquated law was created half a century ago to persecute POC and people in poverty during the so-called “war on drugs” remains intact. Classifying cannabis as a narcotic blatantly ignores the health benefits that it can provide, with no risk of death or physiological addiction. 

I think it is also important to note, for comparison, that neither alcohol nor tobacco are regulated by the Controlled Substances Act, even though they have high rates of addiction, have no medical uses, and have been proven to have negative effects on a person’s health when used long-term.

In the state of Maryland– where I live– weed laws have progressed far past where federal regulations are stuck. As of 2014, cannabis is legal for medical use. To get a medical marijuana card, you must receive a referral from a medical professional and register with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission. Recreational weed isn’t legal in Maryland yet, but state legislation has been proposed to regulate the sale of recreational cannabis, and this will be on the November ballot. Additionally, recreational possession in an amount under 10g has been decriminalized in the state– though there is still not a legal way to purchase weed for personal use. 

So if medical marijuana is legal in Maryland, why isn’t it allowed on campus? In 1989, amendments to the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act required colleges to ban illicit substances on school property or forfeit their federal funding. The illicit substances banned from campuses are based on the Controlled Substance Act’s federal drug classifications. 

The Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act also necessitates that colleges that receive federal funding implement a Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Program (DAAPP). My college’s DAAPP policy prohibits “use, possession, or distribution of narcotics or other controlled dangerous substances, and related paraphernalia on College premises, except as expressly permitted by law and College regulations.” It then goes on to list the possible legal charges in correlation with Maryland state law that one could face if one was arrested for violation of these drug laws, like if one was charged with illegal possession. 

The document also clearly states that the College “supports the laws of the State of Maryland,” which seems to be at odds with the College’s obligation to uphold federal laws in order to maintain its federal funding. It is evident that St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) does receive at least some federal funding, but it is unclear how much annual funding they receive from the federal government (and I doubt they would make that information available to student journalists).

The DAAPP doesn’t make any mention of medical marijuana or other legal forms of marijuana consumption. So where does this leave students who have state-issued medical marijuana cards?

The fact that SMCM receives (an unspecified amount) of federal funding is the only ground that the College has to prohibit students from having medical marijuana on campus. This begs the question: Is it more important for colleges to hold onto their federal funding, or to make learning and living more accessible for students who rely on medical cannabis for treatment?

Cannabis is medicine. For some college students, having access to medical marijuana is what determines whether they get enough sleep to focus in class, or whether they can relax enough to take that exam. Personally, I have a chronic pain condition that really affects my movement and my ability to go to class, and medical cannabis is the only non-addictive pain treatment that actually works. 

If colleges truly care about their students’ well-being, they would stop penalizing medical marijuana on their campuses and allow students to take care of their health. 

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