Alison Yin for EdSourceAlison Yin for EdSourceStudents at UC San Diego don’t need to go far if they want to take part in California’s new recreational marijuana market: Torrey Holistics, a dispensary that sells cannabis to anyone over 21, is the next exit up Interstate 5 from the university.
But those students shouldn’t plan to bring their purchases back to their dorm rooms, or anywhere else on campus.
UC San Diego — along with every other University of California System institution, all of the California State University System, community colleges and private colleges — does not allow marijuana on university grounds or in campus buildings.
Although California has legalized marijuana for adults, and dispensaries began selling cannabis to recreational users last week, colleges and universities across the state are maintaining a policy of prohibition.
That means students and employees caught with marijuana on campus can face discipline even if the pot they possess would have been legal on a city block across the street from the college.
The reason: Any institution that receives federal research or financial aid funding — which nearly every college does — must have policies that are in line with federal drug laws that still consider marijuana illegal.
“Because we accept federal grants we have to follow federal law, so marijuana will still be contraband on campus,” said Ron Levine, chief of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District Police Department in Los Altos Hills in Santa Clara County.
It’s an important distinction that some institutions plan to make at new-student orientations, or in messages to students as they return to campus from winter break.
Levine said his department is planning social media posts to remind students and others about the rules before classes resume this week and is working with the campus marketing office on a broader campaign.
“We will get the word out as much as we can,” Levine said. “It’s definitely not a free-for-all.”
Law didn’t change campus rules
New Year’s Day marked the start of recreational marijuana sales in California, but adults have been allowed to possess up to an ounce of cannabis since soon after voters approved Proposition 64 in November 2016.
Following the vote, the UC system and Stanford University issued statements noting that their drug policies still prohibited marijuana, and officials said last week that those rules have not changed.
They cite a pair of federal laws — the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 and the Drug Free Schools and Communities Amendments of 1989 — that a UC system statement said, “Require that UC, which receives federal funding, have policies that prohibit marijuana use, possession and distribution on campus and in the workplace.”
“UC students and employees who violate the university’s policy may face discipline, with a maximum penalty of dismissal,” according to a November 2016 statement.
Drug policies at the 114-campus California Community Colleges system are set by each institution’s locally elected board of trustees, said Paul Feist, the system’s vice chancellor for communications. Still, Feist said, all of the colleges are bound by the same federal laws that prohibit the use of marijuana.
Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of marijuana, but many colleges in those states have stuck by their drug-free policies, such as those in Washington, Colorado and Oregon.
At Humboldt State University in Arcata in Northern California, the heart of a marijuana production area known as the Emerald Triangle, incoming students are told at orientation that marijuana remains banned on campus despite the state law, spokesman Grant Scott-Goforth said. The university had given a similar warning for years before the November 2016 vote, advising students that medical marijuana prescriptions did not give them license to bring pot on campus, Scott-Goforth said.
Tom Vasich, a spokesman for UC Irvine, where about half of undergraduates live in campus dorms, said students’ housing contracts prohibit them from possessing marijuana or any other drug.
Unclear what start of sales will bring
Even without policies prohibiting marijuana at universities, Proposition 64 was far from a legal blank check to cannabis users on campus.
The state law legalizes possession by adults over 21, so plenty of college students are still risking citations for underage marijuana possession if they are caught with cannabis. Smoking marijuana in public is also banned under the law, and many campuses, including all Cal State institutions, prohibit smoking of any kind on their grounds.
UC Berkeley police Sgt. Sabrina Reich said students caught with marijuana at the university could receive citations as part of a university disciplinary process. If students are busted in a dorm, they can face a range of sanctions that could affect their housing or academic standing.
“We have a lot of administrative options that are available to us,” she said.
Levine, the police chief at Foothill-De Anza, said his department’s actions on marijuana are typically prompted by someone violating other aspects of the law such as selling marijuana or consuming it in public. More than a year after Proposition 64 went into effect, Levine said he could not recall any instances in which a person who was otherwise following the law was disciplined for possessing marijuana on campus.
But U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement Thursday that he was ending the Obama administration’s largely hands-off approach to enforcing federal marijuana laws in states where the drug has been legalized underlined another complication: Students and others who possesses marijuana could still face prosecution from federal authorities regardless of where they are.
Stanford warned in its November 2016 statement that the federal law supersedes Proposition 64, and noted that federal drug convictions could make students ineligible for financial aid.
Under federal law, possessing any amount of marijuana, on first offense, can subject someone to up to a year in jail.
It’s not yet clear whether the start of recreational marijuana sales last week will ultimately change anything on campuses where illegal marijuana had readily been available.
“It’s definitely going to be more prolific in terms of availability, but … marijuana has always been available in the Berkeley community,” Reich said. “I don’t know that there is going to be a noticeable difference in the instances of possession of marijuana on our campus.”
EdSource’s trusted, in-depth reporting has never mattered more.
With the coronavirus affecting every aspect of California’s education, demand for EdSource’s reporting has increased tremendously.We can meet this demand, with help from readers like you.From now through December 31, NewsMatch will match your one-time gift or your new monthly donation for 12 months. Your contribution ensures that EdSource’s content continues to be available for free – without a paywall or ads. Make your donation today to DOUBLE your impact.