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Higher Learning not on Campus

Higher Learning not on Campus
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California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine are joining Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska -- the states in green on the map -- in legalizing recreational marijuana.

California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine are joining Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska in legalizing recreational marijuana. (Graphic by James Hoyt)

You’d be forgiven for only just now remembering that — or having missed it completely.

The decision by voters in California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine to legalize marijuana has been overshadowed by the presidential contest results. But now that you’ve been reminded of that fact, if you go to a college in one of those states and are tempted to partake in the newly legal substance, you might need to temper your expectations before you begin investing in more Cheez-Its and Bob Marley posters for the dorm room (not that there’s anything wrong with more Cheez-Its).

Why? Just because marijuana is legal statewide does not mean it’s OK to use on campus.

Take University of Massachusetts-Amherst, for example. Ed Blaguszewski, a spokesman for the university, told USA TODAY College that marijuana is still not permitted on campus, as it remains illegal on the federal level and is still a violation of the student code, much like alcohol.

“Although Massachusetts voters have approved a ballot measure permitting the possession and recreational use of marijuana, federal laws prohibit the use, possession and/or cultivation of marijuana at educational institutions. The use, possession, or cultivation of marijuana is therefore not allowed in any university housing or on any other university property,” Blaguszewski said in an email.

University of Maine dean of students Robert Dana said while clarifications would be made to students, the university policy on marijuana would be unlikely to change in light of legalization in Maine.

“We have a fairly firm belief that the immoderate use of any psychoactive substance is corrosive to the learning environment, so that would certainly be the case here,” Dana told USA TODAY College. The University of Maine remains a smoke-free campus and bans alcohol and marijuana.

Why does federal law supercede state law on campus? Because most universities and colleges maintain federal funding — often times more funding than the state or private sources can offer. Policies relaxing the prohibition of marijuana on campus could endanger that funding.

Masha Vernik, a sophomore at Boston University, said she thinks universities should relax the regulations.

“I’m annoyed with it. … It just seems like another way to control us when we don’t necessarily need to be controlled,” she said. “It’s paternalistic; I think in general, our universities tend to view us as inept and incapable of making the right decisions for ourselves, and for some reason they think that marijuana is detrimental to our health or to our well-being when that is definitely not the case.”

Ken McConnellogue, a spokesman for the University of Colorado, said CU’s drug enforcement policies didn’t budge after Colorado voted to legalize marijuana in 2012, for the same reasons: federal laws and funding.

So the university embarked on a campaign to remind students that marijuana use and possession was still against the student code.

“It was really a reminder campaign: ‘Hey, this was prohibited on the campuses before, and it still is.’ And we did some messaging to incoming students as well as part of student orientation and et cetera,” McConnellogue said.

CU-Boulder maintains its status as a dry campus in respect to alcohol, though it does allow beer and wine to be consumed in small sections of Folsom Field and the Coors Event Center, home to its football and basketball programs, as well as at select private events.

While these universities are sticking with the hard and fast rules, national organizations are still pushing for reform.

Betty Aldworth, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said her organization will continue its campaign to equalize alcohol and marijuana offenses on campuses, as well as push for policy change in regards to medical marijuana restrictions on campus.

“It’s terrifically unfortunate that even in these places where marijuana has been reformed, on college campuses students are still being treated like criminals,” she said. “What colleges ought to be doing is providing the lowest level of sanctions possible, and support services when needed. Perhaps that means taking a class, or performing a few hours of community service when students are caught using marijuana on campus. That would meet the federal guidelines.”

James Hoyt is a University of Kansas student and a USA TODAY College correspondent.

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