Medical marijuana is still banned under university rules, but patients will no longer face criminal charges.
The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled last week that possessing medical marijuana on college and university campuses across the state is no longer a crime.
Arizona previously was the only state where medical marijuana was illegal on college campuses but legal elsewhere.
“Nobody wants to be the person who has to go to court, but I feel that my situation and my case was so that it was an opportunity for this to happen,” said Andre Maestas, an Arizona State University senior who has spent the past three years fighting for this ruling.
How medical pot became illegal on campus
Arizona’s medical-marijuana program was created in 2010, and it prohibited possession or use of medical marijuana in prisons and on elementary, middle and high-school campuses and buses.
In 2012, then-Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill modifying the law by prohibiting medical marijuana’s use or possession on public university and college campuses, affecting students as well as parents, professors, employees and visitors.
The statute made it a class 6 felony to possess marijuana on a college campus, even if it’s medically recommended. Maestas became the first person to challenge that in court.
The case that overturned the ban
Maestas was arrested in 2014 and charged with a felony for having 0.4 grams of weed in his freshman dorm room on campus, roughly the equivalent of one joint and an allowable amount for a medical-marijuana cardholder.
He was, and still is, a cardholder. He uses medical marijuana for back pain related to misaligned vertebrae.
The state eventually dropped the drug charge to a class 1 misdemeanor, but Maestas decided to work with defense lawyer Tom Dean to appeal his case in hopes of overturning the law.
The Court of Appeals ruling last week stated that the 2012 bill expanding the medical-marijuana ban to college campuses violated the Arizona Constitution’s protections for voter-approved laws.
Expanding the list of places where medical marijuana is prohibited doesn’t “further the purpose” of the voter-approved medical-marijuana law and even “eliminates some of its protections,” Judge Peter Swann wrote in the ruling.
Arizona Attorney General’s Office spokesman Ryan Anderson told the Associated Press last week that the office was disappointed by the ruling but has not yet decided whether to appeal it to the state Supreme Court.
Maestas: ‘It was good to have a victory’
“I was very happy. Elated. Definitely what we wanted to happen, and I couldn’t believe it took so long, and it was good to have a victory,” Maestas, 21, said Friday.
“It’s been taxing on me mentally, and also applying for various jobs and doing stuff, having a criminal record is never easy,” he said. He also worried every semester that he wouldn’t receive financial aid because of his conviction, but he always did.
The court ruling also vacated Maestas’ conviction for possession of marijuana.
“The change that it brings is great. It makes me feel great knowing that in the future patients on campus who are caught with medical marijuana won’t face the same criminal prosecution.”
Maestas’ attorney, Dean, also said he was “very pleased with the decision.”
“This case wasn’t just about the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. The integrity of all voter initiatives was in question. This kind of legislative tampering is precisely what the Voter Protection Act was meant to prevent. If the Legislature wants to weaken the VPA, it will have to get the voters agree to change it, and I don’t think that they will agree.”
Arizona colleges still ban marijuana
Use and possession of marijuana — medicinal or not — is banned on every public college campus in the country, with punishment ranging from drug-education classes to expulsion.
Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and schools must comply with federal law to receive federal grants and funding.
The state Court of Appeals ruling said colleges and universities still can forbid possession of medical marijuana under their own rules, so while Arizona students no longer will face felony charges, they still will have to reckon with university officials.
ASU, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University are unaffected by the ruling and will continue to ban marijuana on campus, medicinal or not, according to the Arizona Board of Regents.