The legalization of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania will have no effect on Dickinson College’s zero tolerance policies regarding marijuana usage, but this may prove an obstacle for students on campus for whom cannabis is medically necessary.
One Dickinson student, who will remain anonymous, is a recipient of medically prescribed cannabis. “As a result of a spinal cord injury, I have been prescribed opiates and multiple anti-inflammatory drugs,” he says. “Unfortunately, these drugs pose significant health risks due to their addictive properties and harmful side-effects…I chose to solely use the cannabis to manage the pain and inflammation associated with my injury.”
He continues, “I am now in far less pain, making it possible for me to comfortably sit through class and focus on my work rather than my back… I hope that Dickinson changes its policies to accommodate students with medical marijuana cards because not having access to cannabis significantly impacts my quality of life, and interferes with my ability to be academically successful.”
According to Dean Joyce Bylander, the college is required to comply with the federal ban regarding the use of cannabis to ensure that Dickinson continues to receive federal funding.
“I’m not sure that [cannabis legalization in Pennsylvania] will have any effect on campus [due to] federal drug laws and the federal drug free schools law,” stated Bylander in an email. “The College will not be authorizing the use of medical marijuana on campus. Even in states where marijuana use is permitted recreationally, colleges and universities do not allow its use on campus because it jeopardizes federal funding.”
“In Pennsylvania, there is no safe access to cannabis,” the student adds. “There is a black market, but buying illicit drugs from strangers is not a safe or reasonable way to purchase a medicinal substance…medical marijuana presents the opportunity to regulate the sale of marijuana in a safe way by making it easier for patients to get the medicine they need, and by taking away the business from black market dealers.”
According to the ncsl.org (the National Conference of State Legislatures), Pa. is the twenty-fourth state to “allow for comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis programs,” as well as the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico, however the dispensary system is not yet in place. Many details of the system are not yet clear, with the projected date for the launch of the program scheduled for an unspecified date in 2018, according to governor.pa.gov.
The federal government classifies cannabis as a schedule one drug, according to deadiversion.usdoj.gov. Schedule one drugs are considered to have “a high potential for abuse…No currently accepted medical use,” and “A lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.” Other drugs that fall within schedule one are heroin, LSD and Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, colloquially MDMA or Ecstasy. However, pure THC, one of the active cannabinoids, is currently classified as schedule three, and marketed by the trade name Marinol.
“The interpretation of the [federal] law is accurate,” states Professor of political science James Hoefler. “It’s not the college that’s being unfair, it’s the law. The college probably has some latitude here, and this is the most cautious course that [the college] could take. On the other hand, if they’re less cautious, they put themselves in some jeopardy of violating federal law, which would put our federal support for higher education, student guaranteed loans, Pell grants [and] all the rest of that; it could put them in some jeopardy.”
Professor Hoefler did express some doubts about potential consequences, stating “The Obama administration has been fairly lenient.” However, he noted that because this is an election year, if Dickinson changed its policy now, there could be backlash depending on who wins in November. “You have to show you’re at least making a good faith effort, it’s a common problem when the state and federal laws are in conflict. What they’re trying to do is keep marijuana off campus, or at least behind closed doors.” Professor Hoefler chalks it up to Dickinson “being cautious, but understandable.”
“It doesn’t seem like Dickinson College has a choice in the matter at all,” commented Christopher Burrow ’20. “If they let students have medical marijuana, they would lose federal funding, which is not an option. They [Dickinson] cannot be at fault. I don’t think it is fair to those students who do genuinely need medical marijuana to function, I do think those students should be able to have access to medical marijuana.”
Matt Berman ’18 said “Unfortunately, we [Dickinson] don’t have a choice on medical marijuana. It’s still against federal law to have marijuana, and we receive a lot of federal funding.”