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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

California Colleges Are Not Medical Marijuana-Friendly

Posted By on Wed, Feb 29, 2012 at 7:30 AM

A real fork in the road
  • A real fork in the road

For some, cannabis and college may go together like beer and college, or massive debt and college (and if you manage to show up to 8 a.m. lectures reeking more of Cypress Hill than frat row, points for diversity, anyway).  

This is not the case in California, at least not when talking medical marijuana and California's state-funded colleges and universities.

Students mixing Plato with pot or sines with sensimilia are fixing for a world-class reality check: California State University has a system-wide zero-tolerance policy for marijuana of any kind, an official said.

The atmosphere at the University of California is slightly more relaxed -- there, administrators may be willing to "accommodate" students in serious need of medication -- but at either system a free lesson in state versus federal jurisdiction awaits the uninitiated, along with a paddling from the administration.

In other parts of the country, state-legal medical marijuana is unwelcome on state-funded land-grant colleges and universities for the nebulous claim that "federal funding" is at risk if an alternate tack is taken. This is the reasoning given by authorities at the University of Arizona. In Colorado, a university spokesman said medical marijuana isn't welcome simply because it's an "attractive nuisance."

In the Rocky Mountain state, at least, university officials allowed a freshman who wanted to use medical marijuana to be released from the requirement that he live on campus. A similar attitude may be found at the University of California system, according to Jerlena Griffin-Desta, director of student services for the 10-campus UC system.

While the UC "would never implement a policy going against a federal law," a UC student desiring to use medical marijuana might find him or herself "accommodated," Griffin-Desta said.

"If a student has demonstrated through documentation that this is something they must have, the university will work with the student to find reasonable accommodations," she said. For example, a student could be released from a housing contract without incurring further penalties. Or the university might even help them find somewhere else to live. And as for the student wishing to medicate discretely using edibles, sprays, or tinctures, "we don't monitor what students eat anyway," Griffin-Desta told SF Weekly.

The situation's a bit more draconian at the 23 California State University campuses, according to spokesman Michael Uhlenkamp.

"There is a zero-tolerance policy," he said. Zero tolerance means no accommodations -- and no exceptions. CSU schools, including San Francisco State University, act thusly because otherwise they "could potentially lose federal funding in the form of financial aid," Uhlenkamp said.

And that's a legitimate point, but probably more so for the students, who stand to lose financial aid if convicted of simple crimes like drug possession. That's if the university police or other authority figures choose to go that route -- and determining when and if a wee spliff is simply tossed away or tossed into a permanent record appears mostly arbitrary, according to Boris Berenberg, president of the San Jose State chapter of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy.

"The police on campus have bigger issues to worry about (ongoing sexual assault issues and multiple homicides last year)," Berenberg wrote in an e-mail, adding that "a high number" of students on campus have recommendations from a doctor for medical marijuana. "But if the police are called for marijuana related issues then the outcome seems to depend highly on the mood of the officers involved."

Students routinely lose housing or scholarships for simple possession, which doesn't seem sensible, Berenberg said: "We understand that the school has an obligation to the entire student body, and risking losing federal funding is dangerous in a time when budgets are already tight." That said, he continued, CSU students are more than willing to donate their time to find a mutually beneficial solution.

In other words, they want to use marijuana and pay to go to school. Rebels!

It's possible that private colleges less reliant on federal handouts could take a more liberal attitude toward medical cannabis. We wish we could tell you for sure: Requests for comment sent to Lisa Lapin, a spokeswoman for Stanford University, were not returned.

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly  

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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