Marijuana possession is a federal crime
Over 20 U.S. states have legalized medical marijuana. Yet even in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska and the District of Columbia – where recreational use of cannabis by adults is legal – underage public college students who need medical marijuana may not use it on campus. This means not just in classrooms and public areas, but in campus-based housing, such as dorms.
In order for public colleges and universities to receive grants and other funds from the federal government, they must abide by federal drug laws, as well as the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act and the Drug-free Workplace Act. As a result, they must enforce the federal prohibition on marijuana, even when it is legal under the laws of their state.
Medical marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance
Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. 812 -- the same classification as heroin and LSD.
This means that according to the U.S. government, marijuana has a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States -- despite the fact that medical marijuana use is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia.
Senate bill 683 -- introduced in 2015 by New Jersey senator Cory Booker – would change this. Under S683, marijuana would be classified as a Schedule II controlled substance. This is the same classification as prescription opioids and even cocaine. So ironically, despite the national opioid epidemic, a student with a prescription can legally possess Vicodin or Oxycontin on campus if prescribed by a doctor, but not medical marijuana.
What can a student who needs medical marijuana do?
Unless and until S683 becomes law, the safest alternative for underage medical marijuana users is to live off-campus. Possessing marijuana on campus carries the risk of university discipline and possible expulsion.
The good news is that most educational institutions aren't looking to punish their students who legitimately need help and are otherwise complying with state medical marijuana laws.
You can minimize your risk by taking the following precautions (although none are guaranteed):
- Get your medical marijuana registry card,
- Consume your marijuana in the form of edibles or tinctures, or use a vaporizer, and
- Do not share or sell your medical marijuana.