Five Months After Question 4: The Present and Future of Marijuana Use on Campus

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It has been roughly five months since Question 4 was passed in Massachusetts but, nonetheless, marijuana use remains prohibited on college campuses including MCLA.

On Nov. 8, 2016, Massachusetts voters approved Question 4, which legalized the use of recreational marijuana for adults 21 years old and over.  Marijuana is now treated similarly to alcohol – no public use is allowed. The law took effect on Dec. 15, 2016.

Although recreational marijuana is legal in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Nevada and now Massachusetts, it still remains illegal at a federal level. This means any college campuses in these states that receive federal funding must abide to federal law or risk having this funding revoked.

“It seemed to be a kind of initial excitement of ‘yay it’s legal now,’ but then a realization that ‘well, we can’t really do anything now,’” Milena Casamassima, president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), said.

Since the College receives federal funding, it is bound to follow federal law in order to continue receiving funding, which funds a significant portion of financial aid, Work Study and student loans. MCLA students receive nearly $13 million in federal financial aid assistance for students and almost 70 percent of the student population receives some federal aid, with 46 percent receiving Pell Grants.

“Obviously the impact of losing this aid would be devastating to our student body,” said Catherine Holbrook, vice president of Student Affairs, in an email.

The SSDP, Public Safety and Residential Program Services (RPS) held an open discussion regarding the future of marijuana use and policy on campus in early December. The conclusion? Essentially, marijuana-related protocol and policy would not change on campus due to federal funding and the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act.

Still, both the administration and students acknowledged the number of unknown factors and future discussions that need to happen.

Campus Perception vs. Reality: So What Has Changed? Not Much.

Despite what one may assume, marijuana-related incidents statistically have not yet increased on campus since Question 4 was passed, according to Brian Gallagher, coordinator of Student Conduct and Community Standards.

One factor that may contribute to a lack of increase in marijuana incidents is the residential nature of the College. Since the majority of resident students are under the age of 21, the law still does not allow them to use marijuana recreationally. A no-smoking policy in all campus buildings also prevents use of marijuana in dorms. This was acknowledged by both Casamassima and Chief Dan Colonno, director of Public Safety and Campus Police Chief.

“It’s maybe their misinterpretation of law thinking, ‘oh it’s legal for me now.’ One, it’s not legal for you because of your age, and two, it’s not legal for you because you’re here,” Colonno said. “So it’s that teachable moment that we take advantage of, or at least officers do.”

“Marijuana is Marijuana”

The federal ban on marijuana does not only apply to recreational marijuana use, but to medical marijuana as well. Consequently, medical marijuana is also not allowed on MCLA’s campus, but a student may be able to receive accommodations by having a discussion with Health Services.

“For us, marijuana is marijuana, period,” Gallagher said.

“The administration told us that it’s not going to make any difference on [the possession of medical marijuana] at all, even if someone does have a prescription for it. The only solution that they did come up with is maybe talking to RPS and maybe getting out of your housing requirement, maybe living off campus,” said SSDP Treasurer Cedar Robideau.

Other forms of marijuana, such as edible and topical forms, are also banned from campus.

“Another issue would be smoking marijuana versus edibles because with smoking you’re not only making the choice for yourself, but you’re subjecting other people to that, and also we can’t even have candles or incense in the residences so I don’t know how they would feel about any sort of smoke in terms of fire safety,” Casamassima said. “But with things like edibles, as long as they’re clearly marked, I would definitely push for students to be able to possess that anywhere.”

However, the policy regarding medical marijuana on campus still has unknown variables, in part attributed to the lack of students who have been verbal about their need for medicinal marijuana.

“To the best of my knowledge no one has come forward and said ‘hey I’ve got this situation, can I get some sort of accommodation?’ We have not had to investigate that or have a conversation about that,” Gallagher said. “Conversations like that may come up and the answer was always ‘we’ll talk about it when we need to.’ We don’t make up rules just to make up rules, we adapt to what’s happening with our students and how we need to make accommodations for them.”

Campus Conduct and Execution of Punishment   

How the College handles marijuana-related incidents differs depending on a number of factors, according to Gallagher. The age of the student resident, conduct history and the magnitude of the situation are all factors that Gallagher takes into account.

“In the world of conduct, there’s no ‘A’ equals ‘B’ situation,” Gallagher said. “If you do something versus your roommate does something, you two are totally different people. You may have a conduct history or your roommate may have a conduct history. . .and that impacts what happens.”

Gallagher and Colonno both stressed the importance of having conversations with students. A difference in conversation would depend on the student, their age and the offense. Generally, if a student is caught with marijuana in their residence, the student’s Resident Adviser (RA) would be the first to handle the situation and then directed to the Resident Director (RD) before being reported to Student Conduct.

“The War on Drugs” in a Trumpian Era

According to SSDP Public Relations Chair Nick Tardive, the biggest challenge regarding marijuana policy change on and off college campuses lies in the ideologies of the Trump administration. Tardive specifically referenced recent comments regarding marijuana use made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which criticized the character of marijuana-users and called for an increased crack-down on drug policy.

“I wouldn’t say so much on a college campus level or even in terms of millennials as a whole that an attitude change needs to happen, but definitely within the federal government there’s a big problem,” Tardive said. “We just took a giant step back with Sessions, so it’s a matter of people who have already had that attitude shift such as people in our generation saying to the federal government, ‘no, you’re just detrimentally wrong with this subject.’”

Casamassima, however, sees a silver lining for the future and hopes this could be a call to action for young people who hope to see federal marijuana policy amended.

“If Trump keeps doing ridiculous things and then throws marijuana into that then maybe people will start to see that all of those things are ridiculous,” she said. “Like telling people they can’t use a certain bathroom because they weren’t born a certain sex, if we can group anti-marijuana with all of the horrible things that Trump is doing then maybe people will all see that ‘hey marijuana should be legalized everywhere,’ so it could kind of be a call to action to young people like us.”

Campus Conversations and Future Dialogue

Since the discussion between the SSDP, MCLA students and faculty, RPS and Public Safety was held last December, there have been no additional discussions on campus regarding the issue. However, the SSDP and Public Safety both urge students to use their voices to make the change they wish to see on campus.

Casamassima wished to make a “public service announcement” to students who may have a medical marijuana card and may be hiding it.

“You need to say something. If you say something now then maybe in a few years students can get the medication and use the medication that they need on this campus. We just need the people to be willing to talk about it, that’s the main thing.”

The SSDP also encourages opposition to join their discussion in order to reduce the “echo chamber” effect and create dialogue.

“It’s really hard to talk about things, especially politically charged topics like this, but it’s so great to just get involved and have those conversations with people and try to understand their perspective and try to get them to understand our perspective,” said Mike Friedman, the secretary of SSDP.

Gallagher also encourages students who want to see a change in policy to either talk to Student Affairs or advocate for change by contacting elected officials. Ultimately, he says, the decision lies outside of MCLA’s power and control.

“Legally, at the end of the day marijuana is not allowed on this campus and that’s not changing,” Gallagher said. “If you’d like that to change, as I tell all students, please talk with your elected officials, they’re the people in power there. That’s a part of your right as a citizen, part of your duty.”