Massachusetts colleges and universities say even if voters legalize marijuana in next month’s referendum, using the drug anywhere on campus, including in dorm rooms, will remain forbidden.
Question 4 would eliminate penalties for possessing, using, or purchasing marijuana starting Dec. 15 and would allow recreational shops to open in 2018.
But marijuana would be legal just for people 21 and over, a group that excludes most college students. And consumption in public places would still be banned.
Colleges and universities say they won’t permit consumption even in private spaces on campus, such as dorm rooms. That’s because almost all schools get federal funding and, therefore, must comply with federal law, under which marijuana remains illegal.
“The use of marijuana is a violation of the university’s code of student conduct,” said Matt McDonald, a spokesman for Northeastern University. It “will remain so regardless of the outcome of next month’s ballot question. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and universities that receive federal funding, as Northeastern does, must comply with those federal statutes.”
Jeremy Solomon, a spokesman for Simmons College, said regardless of what voters decide Nov. 8, “the use of marijuana will remain strictly prohibited on the campus of Simmons College.”
The challenge, say college administrators in Colorado, where voters legalized the drug in 2012, is making sure students know that the state law legalizing the drug doesn’t apply to them on university grounds.
Since legalization, “policywise, nothing has changed” on campus, said Ryan Huff, chief spokesman for the University of Colorado Boulder. But, he said, “We certainly did a lot of messaging to our students at that time and, you know, we have to continue to do that.”
Huff said he hasn’t seen any evidence that campus police officers are dealing with more marijuana-smoking issues in recent years.
There are students who use marijuana on campus, he said, and, if they are caught, they face student conduct sanctions, and a criminal summons if they’re using in public. “That certainly occurs, but we didn’t see a large spike in volume of that activity compared to years prior to Amendment 64,” the 2012 legalization referendum.
Huff’s advice for schools in Massachusetts was simple.
“When a state legalizes marijuana, there are a lot of assumptions on what the rules might be. So you have to [be] clear, in our case, that the policies would remain the same,” he said. “You just have to be clear in your messaging and repeat it a lot so people know exactly what the rules are.”
The massive, 70,000-student University of Massachusetts system appears to already be grappling with the sticky issue.
UMass spokesman Jeff Cournoyer said he doesn’t expect any student conduct policies related to marijuana to change. But if Question 4 passes, a challenge could be “communicating to of-age students that a widely publicized change to the state law would not apply on the campuses.”
Among other schools that are poised to leave their no-marijuana policies in place even if Question 4 passes: Tufts University, Amherst College, Suffolk University, and Boston University.
Some local colleges, such as Boston College and Harvard University, say it’s premature to stake out a stance before Massachusetts voters cast their ballots.
(There are, of course, many students who live off campus. If marijuana becomes legal in Massachusetts, they are 21 or older, and their landlord is OK with it, those students can smoke to their heart’s content. And even if their landlord frowns upon such endeavors, of-age students could still drink and eat marijuana-infused products like soda and brownies in their apartment — unless they live in federally subsidized housing.)
At Suffolk University in downtown Boston last week, students said they’re not surprised that marijuana will remain banned on campus, regardless of what happens at the polls Nov. 8.
“If it were legal, I think, for sure, there would be rules on campus” prohibiting use, said Diego Puig-Corve, an 18-year-old Suffolk student from Miami. So, he said, there probably wouldn’t be much change.
“People who use it would still use it; people who don’t still wouldn’t,” the freshman said.
Jordan Gillies, a 22-year-old student from Newmarket, N.H., said because Suffolk is a private school, he expects the university to keep marijuana forbidden on campus.
Still, he expected some change: “I would say there would be less alcoholism in students because they’d be able to deal with stress through marijuana.”
Several Suffolk, Boston University, and Harvard College students said marijuana is already widely available on their respective campuses to people who are looking for it — and mostly invisible to those who aren’t.
“Out of sight, out of mind,” said a male student wearing Harvard Wrestling gear walking toward the school’s Science Center in Cambridge Friday morning.
In Boston, Connor Paradis, a 19-year-old BU student, said marijuana was available on campus, like just about any school. And he said he believes it would make more sense for it to be legal.
“I feel as though a large proportion of our generation is smoking weed anyway,” and, he said, it’s not fair that people “who look like me” can get away with marijuana use, while people of color get in trouble.
On Friday, Katerina Chew, a BU freshman from near Washington, D.C., where voters have already legalized the drug, was walking along Commonwealth Avenue with a fellow student from Portland, Ore., where the substance is also legal.
They both were nonchalant about the prospect of legalization in Massachusetts.
“It’s nice, but it doesn’t affect people unless you’re using marijuana,” the young woman from Portland said.
Chew, 18, said there should be resources to help people struggling with addiction but believes it’s wrong for people to get in trouble for marijuana smoking — echoing the sentiment of most students interviewed.
Whether people are using it for recreational or medical use, Chew said, “it doesn’t make much sense for it to be criminalized.”