Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states allowing citizens to buy weed online or through retails channels. Florida is expected to follow this fall. Furthermore, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C. may pass laws legalizing recreational marijuana use. But even with a prescription, cannabis is still illegal under federal law. Under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana remains a Schedule I narcotic, classifying it as one of the most dangerous substances in the same class as heroin and cocaine. This division in state and federal law is putting the nation’s universities in the middle. Medical marijuana patients who use this legal, prescribed medicine on campus could risk losing federal student aid. Veterans for instance returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and going to colleges and universities on the G.I. bill have to be careful. Though many have been prescribed medical marijuana for PTSD and other disorders, losing their funding would mean losing their chance at a better life.
University administrators have sympathized. Still, their schools cannot afford to violate two important federal laws: the Drug-Free Workplace Act and the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act. The University of Southern Maine’s Stephen Nelson told NPR, “It’s not a question of right or wrong, ethical or not ethical, any of that. Right now, we just can’t run the risk of losing federal dollars.”
Southern Main University alone receives $60 million in Title 4 financial aid. Then there’s research funding. So hundreds of millions of dollars could hang in the balance. Still the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws’ (NORML) Allen St. Pierre called the reasoning “far-fetched.” He said, “There’s no historical precedent. If a student patient can have really dangerous and addictive drugs like Percocet, Vicodin, and Morphine, then there’s no moral or pharmacological reason why they can’t have a mildly psychotropic vegetable matter.”
The University of Colorado’s Jill Creighton says college administrators have been discussing this topic for years. The truth is they don’t have a choice she says. “Some student codes of conduct are much laxer about marijuana use in general, but the assumption is if we were to allow medical marijuana on our campuses, we would then be jeopardizing our Title 4 funding.”
The U.S. Department of Education so far has not commented on this issue. A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice Alison Price said, “The Department of Justice is focusing its limited resources on significant drug traffickers, not seriously ill individuals who are in compliance with applicable state medical marijuana statutes.”