Though D.C. will vote on legalizing marijuana use this fall, any success for legalization activists would have little impact on GW’s campus.
University spokesman Kurtis Hiatt said GW would continue to ban marijuana use on campus property to comply with federal drug laws. Otherwise, the University would risk losing some of the millions of dollars it receives in federal funding every year.
The city announced this month that legalization would appear on the November ballot. D.C. also decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana this year, lessening the punishment for carrying less than an ounce of marijuana to a $25 fine.
But even if city voters support legalization this fall, Hiatt said GW must comply with the federal Controlled Substances Act, the Drug-Free Workplace Act and the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act.
Colleges in Washington and Colorado, the only states in the country that have implemented marijuana legalization, have rolled out information campaigns to explain to students why the drugs are still prohibited on campus.
Major Steve Rittereiser, the head of the Office of Professional Standards and Training at the University of Washington’s police department, said officials blasted emails to parents and gave talks during Greek life recruitment seminars, which hundreds of students attend each year, explaining the consequences of marijuana usage on campus.
He said the school could even lose funding if police find marijuana at an off-campus fraternity or sorority house because at public universities, some Greek housing is supported in part by federal aid.
“What we find is the air of confusion has gone up,” he said. “We have to explain that we’re under federal law and the Drug Free Schools Act.”
GW has already started to inform students about the implications of decriminalization in the District. The Center for Alcohol and other Drug Education has covered the walls of residence halls with posters that outline the provisions of the city’s marijuana laws.
Students who are caught with more than one ounce of marijuana, or any quantity of another drug, face possible suspension. First-time offenders must pay a $50 fine, while students with a second charge must pay $100. A third offense results in a disciplinary meeting to “determine the viability of the student’s remaining at the University,” according to the code of student conduct.
Off campus, marijuana legalization would face other complications specific to D.C.
Paul Zukerberg, a local lawyer who specializes in marijuana-related cases, said the city would have to pass a series of new laws if voters approved legalization. Legislators would need to determine how to regulate distribution and taxation to keep marijuana out of the hands of minors.
“When you make large public policy changes, it’s a process and not all the questions are going to be answered overnight,” Zukerberg said.
Robert Capecchi, deputy director of state policy at the Marijuana Policy Project, said the District’s patches of federal land could prove a challenge to law enforcement. Differences in federal and D.C. drug laws “could cause some confusion,” he said, though neither would allow people to smoke marijuana in public.
Jack Evans, Foggy Bottom’s representative on the D.C. Council, said voters are likely to support the ballot initiative, but the future of marijuana laws in the city would remain unclear because of congressional oversight.
“There’s the question of whether the vote will take place in the first place because of Congress,” Evans said. “Beyond that, will Congress step in as they can for anything they do here?”