Lee Kaplan-Unsoeld, Staff Writer
Since 2008, medical marijuana has been legal in Washington State. Last November, voters took one step closer towards full legalization, passing Initiative 502 and removing penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use by individuals 21 and over. Along with Colorado’s similar ballot measure, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has given Washington the go-ahead to move forward with these radical policy changes. With multiple levels of regulation changing, students may find themselves wondering: how will marijuana legalization affect our campus?
One would think that Saint Martin’s, a private university on privately owned land would be able to set its own drug and alcohol policy. However, the majority of Saint Martin’s policy is built off the federal government’s Drug Free Schools and Communities Act Amendments of 1989. These laws ban the “possession, use, manufacture, sale, or distribution of marijuana (including medicinal marijuana)” on campus or at any activity related to the university.
So, it should come as no surprise that students will not be able to smoke marijuana on campus when I-502 takes effect in December. Howard Thronson, Director of Public Safety, suggests that students should think carefully before they smoke while off campus and return., .
“If a student is incapacitated and at risk, whether its marijuana or alcohol, it’s going to be the same thing,” says Thronson. “If someone who is under 21 is using, they will be subject not only to the code of conduct but to state and federal law as well.”
It is also important to keep in mind that, off campus, it is still illegal to smoke in public areas, as well as to drive while sustaining a blood marijuana content level of 5 nanograms per milliliter or more. On top of those restrictions, our school code of conduct states that students are subject to school rules while on or off campus.
However, in that same policy is a widely interpretable clause when it extends the school Code of Conduct to off-campus activities only if it “interferes with or adversely affects the University community or the institution’s mission, reputation, or functions.”
Thronson’s reminders should not be taken lightly. The facts remain that the Washington State Liquor Control Board has yet to release finalized regulations for I-502, and if the regulations are not strict enough for the federal government’s liking, the law will likely be shut down completely.
At the end of the day, the legal situation for recreational marijuana use is filled with gray areas, and only time will tell how the implementation of I-502 will affect Saint Martin’s and other universities in the state. However if an individual’s marijuana use becomes noticeably disruptive to the university community, disciplinary actions will almost unquestionably be sought. With that said, just as the DOJ has stated that prosecuting adult marijuana users is not high on their priorities, Thronson is willing to admit that he is not hunting for individuals using recreational marijuana, especially if the use happens off campus.
“At this point in time, until I get further guidance, it’s not going to be a violation to have marijuana in your system, except if you’re a student employee or regular employee,” says Thronson.
The future is still unknown for Washington State’s efforts to move towards full legalization of marijuana, but for Washington State residents who do smoke, student or not, the ambiguity of the legal developments are likely a breath of fresh air.