Students who are prescribed marijuana under the new D.C. law permitting the drug for medicinal use will not be able to possess or use the drug on campus under the current GW student conduct policies, a University official said in August.
Although medicinal marijuana was approved by the D.C. Council in July, GW’s Code of Student Conduct currently prohibits “possession or use of illegal drugs or controlled substances,” making it a violation for patients who attend GW to use the drug on campus.
“At this time GW Policy does not permit students to possess or use marijuana for any purpose,” Assistant Dean of Students Tara Pereira said in an e-mail. “We are aware that a new District of Columbia law permits physicians to recommend the use of marijuana for patients with certain medical conditions, and we will be studying this issue further as the District Government takes steps to implement the new law.”
If a student is caught using marijuana on school premises, the first offense of possession or use of marijuana can lead to a $50 fine, participation in a drug abuse education program and loss of housing. Reports of suspicious odors in dormitory rooms can culminate in an administrative housing search of the premises.
Other universities in states where marijuana has been legalized for medicinal purposes – there are currently 14 – have taken creative approaches to mediate the differences between state law and university policies.
The University of Colorado, for example, bans use of the drug on campus, but is waiving freshman patients from its on-campus housing requirements. The University of Montana also releases some students with medical marijuana cards from housing, but maintains its drug policies for fear of losing federal funding.
The contradiction between federal and state laws also led Rutgers University to turn down an offer from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to become the provider of New Jersey’s medical marijuana, after the state legalized the drug earlier this year.
On the other side of the spectrum in Los Angeles, where there are more than 600 dispensaries according to the Los Angeles Times, the University of Southern California’s policy is “to conform to all applicable laws and follows the current stance of the medical and mental health professions regarding the use of other psychoactive substances. including marijuana.” However, the school maintains a smoke-free policy in its buildings and enforces state laws about marijuana possession and use, USC’s student newspaper the Daily Trojan reported
Susan Mottet, committee counsel for Councilmember David Catania, I-At Large, who introduced the bill to legalize medicinal marijuana in the District, said in January that universities must balance policies with practicality.
“I would imagine universities would allow students to also [smoke medical marijuana] on campus somewhere because laws and policies can’t say you can use some medications and not other medications. At the same time, they are going to be wary about allowing students to smoke marijuana in a dorm room with a roommate,” Mottet told The Hatchet in January, when the bill was first introduced. “I imagine they will have to revisit their policies that relate to that.”
Although cards have not yet been issued, according to the new D.C. law, District physicians are now licensed to recommend medical marijuana to patients with HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, conditions characterized by severe and persistent muscle spasms, cancer, any condition that cannot be effectively treated by ordinary measures or to “mitigate the side effects of some medical treatments,” according to a statement from D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.
Fenty released proposed regulations Aug. 6 that must undergo a 45-day public comment and D.C. Council approval period before they can be enacted. Medical marijuana will be regulated by the Department of Health, the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration and Metropolitan Police.
“All District residents deserve access to the full slate of medical treatments available,” Fenty said. “My administration will work to ensure that medical marijuana is dispensed safely and efficiently.”
On the day the medical marijuana bill became law – Congress allowed the bill’s 30-day review period to expire without objection – Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s non-voting delegate in Congress, said the law will be tightly regulated. She also commended the council for passing the legislation.
“We have faced repeated attempts to re-impose the prohibition on medical marijuana in D.C. throughout the layover period,” Norton said in a statement. “Yet, it is D.C.’s business alone to decide how to help patients who live in our city and suffer from chronic pain and incurable illnesses.”