Maryland marijuana legislation: complicated implications for state’s college students

By Sophie Foster

Opinion Editor

On July 1, recreational marijuana use became legal for Marylanders over the age of 21 after voters approved the November 2022 referendum in favor of the legislation. Previously, it was legal only for medical use.

Moving forward, those of legal age will be allowed to possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana and up to two cannabis plants, according to the legislation. Additionally, penalties will be drastically reduced for the possession of up to 2.5 ounces. Dispensaries statewide that previously served medicinal users exclusively are now available to anyone with proper identification.

However, because its recreational usage remains federally illegal — recreationally, the drug is only legal in 23 states, and is federally classified as a Schedule I substance along with heroin — all schools receiving federal funding are required to ban said usage on campus, according to Campus Drug Prevention.

While this inherently includes state and public schools, such as the University of Maryland system, what it means for students at private institutions like Washington College is a bit less transparent. This is particularly the reality since, unlike UMD, WC is yet to release a statement regarding protocol, policy, and potential punishment for students who smoke or otherwise consume the substance on campus.

It is likely, however, that WC’s circumstances look much more similar to UMD’s than students might initially be inclined to expect.

According to the University, its administration “plans on communicating with the campus community to inform them that although the state law is changing to permit the personal use of cannabis to people who meet specific criteria, UMD’s policy will not change, as required by federal guidelines.”

Though WC released no such statement, the College, despite being private, does receive significant federal funding — most notably, in its application to scholarships and financial aid for much of the student body.

According to the WC website, marijuana remains prohibited on campus, and students “found to be in possession of or using marijuana will face disciplinary action and possible criminal charges.”

Potential responses to violations include Honor Board review, probation, substance abuse education requirements, suspension, counseling, or, in extreme cases, expulsion.

Additionally, the College presents the sanctions of fines, change in housing assignments, restriction to class activity, parent or guardian notification, Provost Office notification, and legal ramifications in cases where laws beyond College policy are broken. Though available on the website, this is not information that has been communicated clearly to students — particularly those who are over the age of 21 and may otherwise expect to be safe to enjoy marijuana usage in their own spaces because of the College’s nature as a private institution.

Administrative figures owe students transparency in this regard. It is unfair to expect students to adhere to regulations and policies that have not been communicated to them in the wake of major legislative shifts when the College’s status as federally affiliated is nuanced and nebulous.

In fact, the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act states that colleges and universities making use of federal funding and thus expected to align with federal marijuana standards “are required to annually inform students of the legal and university-based sanctions that will be taken if a student is caught in use or posession of cannabis,” according to Campus Drug Prevention.

Regardless, this does not mean that students are banned from marijuana use altogether. This policy applies specifically to school property, which includes dormitories, outdoor campus locations, and school-sponsored events both on and off campus. Maryland law still does not allow cannabis consumption in public spaces, indoor or outdoor, either, according to BestColleges. Those looking to legally enjoy marijuana products are restricted to doing so on off-campus private property.

Ideally, this will only be a reality for a limited number of years, as progress continues to be made toward the federal legalization of marijuana, which would allow for most federally funded institutions to adopt independent policies similar to those maintained for alcohol on campus.

Perhaps aiding in this push for legalization is research conducted between the Oxford College of Emory University and the University of South Carolina that indicates “that the enactment of adult-use legalization in a state is associated with a nearly 15 percent increase in the size of the applicant pool for colleges in those states,” according to Marijuana Moment.

The study found that states which made the switch early on to marijuana legalization, such as Colorado, experienced an increase in applicants as high as 30 percent.

According to the study’s conclusion, their “work stresses the potential for positive gains for colleges looking to improve their applicant pools, with no evidence of negative effects.”

Bearing in mind the consistently demonstrated safety of marijuana use when juxtaposed against substances far more common, such as alcohol and nicotine, students should feel hopeful that they will continue to witness change made in positive directions. Until these changes become concrete on the federal level, however, our administrators should be held accountable for providing information in a thorough, accessible manner.

Photo courtesy of Sophie Foster

Photo Caption: Ash + Ember, a dispensary in Centreville, Md., is among several in Maryland that opened their doors to recreational users in July.

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