Colorado’s pot law trumped on campus by federal law

Despite legalization, possession, use and sale of marijuana on state campuses is forbidden

When Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use in January, many people also noted a simultaneous jump—nearly 30 percent—in out-of-state student applications to the University of Colorado, Boulder. The reason, says Director of Admissions Kevin MacLennan, was not the pursuit of “higher education” but merely the fact that the state also began allowing the Common Application.

Although citizens can now legally buy pot—which could generate nearly $70 million in tax revenue this year—don’t expect to find it on the state’s college campuses. Despite changes to the state law, federal rules still hold sway—the possession, use and sale of marijuana on state campuses is forbidden.

“We would like to remind the campus community that the amendment does not change existing University of Colorado campus policies,” said University of Colorado, Denver Chancellor Don Elliman in a written release.

But, as the song says, the times they are a-changin’. According to a Gallup poll conducted last fall, for the first time, a clear majority of Americans (58 percent) favor legalizing marijuana.

Currently, marijuana is legal for recreational use in just two states, Colorado and Washington, but as many as 14 others, including Arizona, Massachusetts, New York and Wisconsin, are looking at their own laws, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Pot is allowed for medical use in 16 states as a growing number of physicians recognize its effectiveness in treating a variety of conditions, from chronic pain and chemotherapy effects to anxiety disorders and diabetes.

Another 14 states have decriminalized marijuana, and others are considering it. Note that decriminalization means only that possession is not a crime that results in jail time, but is illegal nonetheless, meaning it can still lead to fines and other penalties.

So, unless the federal law changes, state-subsidized institutions, no matter where they are, have to play by the rules—any university receiving federal funds must adopt a program to prevent use of illicit drugs by students and employees.

In a recent NPR interview, Stephen Nelson, who oversees student misconduct at the University of Southern Maine, said, “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.”

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