Smoked Out

On election night, the people of Colorado and Washington sent a clear message to the government in favor of recreational marijuana. While the passing of I-502 in Washington and A64 in Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana, has strong symbolic and ideological significance, many questions remain about its legal implications on college campuses; conflict will remain between the new state laws and existing federal law regarding marijuana use, meaning that universities in Colorado and Washington will not become smoking-friendly zones.

On Dec. 6, Section 20 of I-502 will take effect in Washington. It will allow any person over the age of 21 to legally possess up to 1oz of dried marijuana or 16 oz of marijuana solids. It is expected that with the legalization of marijuana, its use will become more prevalent on Washington and Colorado college campuses. After all, it’s a well-known truth that many students smoke marijuana on a regular basis regardless of its legal status. The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention reports that the amount of college students using marijuana has been consistently between 30 and 35 percent from 1996 to 2006. However, when the new law becomes active, colleges will need to send a clear message that this does not change campus policy. With the passing of I-502 and A64, students are still going to be prohibited from smoking on campus according to many college officials including Bronson Hilliard, a spokesman for the University of Colorado at Boulder and Norman G. Arkans, a spokesman for the University of Washington. Colleges have already made it clear that regardless of the amendment, students over 21 who smoke weed on campus at all will still face prosecution.

Universities in Colorado and Washington that depend on federal funding are rejecting the new marijuana laws. Under the Drugs Free Schools and Communities Act of 1989, institutions that allow drugs on the campus can be audited and may face losing federal funding. Since the federal government still considers marijuana illegal, the Act of 1989 ensures that colleges’ hands are tied. Washington and Colorado college spokespersons have echoed this sentiment, and even Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper instructed college students to not begin smoking on campus due to possible conflict with federal funds.

Students may further feel the effects of I-502 and A64 if their legalization leads to the standardization of regulatory marijuana use in other activities such as driving. In California the use of medical marijuana raised controversial issues — such as those illuminated in the study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration after medical marijuana was legalized— over the capabilities of stoned drivers. The study revealed that the number of car crash related fatalities where drugs were the primary factor, with no alcohol involved, had jumped by a staggering 55 percent. In the context of recent legalization, a formal standard has now been established. In Colorado and Washington, just as driving drunk will result in a DUI, so will driving high. If a person is pulled over with probable cause and found with 5 nanograms of THC in their blood, an amount indicative of having smoked or ingested marijuana within the last two hours, he may immediately be charged with a DUID. This is an example of how I-502 and A64 will lead to the development of more safety regulations affecting both the general population and the student body.

I-502 is a significant, if pre-cursory, victory for pot activists. However, just as Topsanna Littlestar, vice president of WSU’s branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, predicted, it is likely to have relatively little impact on campus. Littlestar foresees that since smoking is already so prevalent on college campuses, not much is going to change.

Legalizing medical marijuana is also not going to prevent college students from facing prosecution, even if they are over 21. Any changes that I-502 and A64 trigger will not be evident on the front lawns of Washington and Colorado universities, but may still be seen in private parties and dorm rooms.  

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