Marijuana and schools could be linked in the public consciousness, but the two don’t go together in Maine – at least not officially despite the drug’s legalization earlier in the month.

Universities and Colleges throughout Maine have been reminding students that marijuana continues to be prohibited on their campuses, irrespective of weed’s new legal status elsewhere for those 21 and older. It’s a textbook instance of political satire, given that many of these schools are situated in towns that leaned greatly for legalization last November in a campaign where the statewide margin of victory was merely 4,000 votes.

“The federal law and the state law are in conflict with one another and our perspective is – like a lot of our fellow institutions of higher education – that we will continue to follow federal law,” said Joshua McIntosh, Bates College’s vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “Our strategy to it and our policies toward it remain unchanged and will probably stay unchanged until that conflict between the state and federal governments gets worked out.”

Same goes for most, if not all, institutions of higher learning in Maine.

“Nothing will change here,” said Robert Dana, vice president for student life in the University of Maine in Orono.

 

PART OF A NATIONAL TREND

That dynamic also is playing out on campuses in Massachusetts, Washington, Colorado as well as the four other states that have legalized recreational marijuana. Faced with the prospect of losing scholarship money and grants by breaking federal law, schools are choosing to play it safe in regards to official policy, even if the on-campus truth is a bit vaguer.

Sam Mendez, director of the University of Washington School of Law’s Cannabis Law and Policy Project, isn’t conscious of any schools in legalization states which are openly permitting the usage of marijuana, considering that would risk the loss of federal funds. Mendez, whose state along with Colorado legalized marijuana in the year 2012, said private schools which are not as dependent on federal funds could test that theory, but none have been willing to roll the dice.

“The ironic thing is cannabis is used in college campuses very widely but it remains against the rules and against the law,” Mendez said. “Until here’s actually reform at the federal level, I don’t believe that is going to change much. There might be (a school) which is going to challenge the federal government, but that’s a huge risk because that could be the loss of millions or even tens of millions of dollars.”

As of last Monday, Mainers age 21 and over are permitted to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and up to six flowering plants for their personal use in a private setting. The ballot initiative last November approved by a small majority of voters also legalizes retail sales of marijuana, yet weed stores and social clubs will not open until at February 2018 after licensing and enforcement rules are in place.

Nevertheless, university and college administrators insist they’re obliged to live-up to higher standards.

To be able to meet the requirements for their share of billions of dollars in research grants and federal financial aid, schools must certify that they comply with Title IV of the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act. That certification requires schools to adopt and disseminate “standards of conduct that clearly prohibit, at the absolute minimum, the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of alcohol and illegal drugs by employees and students on its property or as part of any of its activities.”

The federal Drug-Free Workplace Act also imposes requirements on employers that receive federal grants or contracts.

“As far as the feds go, nothing changed within their view so nothing has changed for us,” said Rob Levin, spokesman at College of the Atlantic, a school famous for its crunchy culture and environment-oriented programs.

All of the colleges and universities surveyed by the Portland Press Herald – UMaine, University of Southern Maine, Bowdoin College, Colby College, Bates College, University of New England and College of the Atlantic – mentioned the federal prohibition on marijuana in banning the drug on campus.

 

‘THERE IS NO CHANGE’

Administrators at several institutions followed-up November’s legalization vote with warnings to students.

“In short, nothing changes at Bowdoin,” Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster and Vice President of Human Resources Tama Spoerri wrote to students and staff on Nov. 14.

“The college will continue to prohibit students from breaking federal law by possessing, trafficking, or using illegal substances, including marijuana and/or drug paraphernalia,” the letter continued. “Because the college is subject to federal law (see below), and because students are guided by our Academic Honor Code and Social Code, this applies to the use of these drugs by students on and off campus. Students who violate this code will be subject to disciplinary action, and students who sell illegal drugs will be asked to step down from the college or will be subject to a Judicial Board hearing for permanent dismissal.”

Bowdoin’s firmly worded message – and its particular threat of disciplinary action even for off-campus use – goes further than most in Maine. But RAs or resident assistants, at other schools have been giving a variation of “the talk” to dormitory dwellers on their campuses, even though many of these undergrads living in dorms are probably too young to consume marijuana.

Danielle Lucas and Madeline Waugh, who are both RAs on the University of Southern Maine’s Gorham campus, said students didn’t seem particularly surprised or upset.

“They didn’t get angry. They simply said, ‘OK’” said Waugh, a 22-year-old senior. As it is at other schools nationwide – marijuana use was a concern for RAs at the University of Southern Maine even before the November vote.

“I actually don’t think it changed anything,” Waugh added. “It’s illegal to drink under age 21, but people find ways to do it.”

 

THE YOUTH HELPED PASS QUESTION 1

Obviously, it’s indisputable that the school-aged crowd played a part in November’s legalization vote.

A majority of voters in almost all of the communities that host universities or colleges in Maine – Portland, Orono, Brunswick, Farmington, Waterville, Bar Harbor, Biddeford and Bangor – voted in favor of legalization. As well as the vote tallies weren’t even close in the majority of these communities, regardless of the fact that the margin of difference statewide was only 3,995 votes, or 0.5 percent of the total.

David Boyer, who helped head the Question 1 campaign, said he understood from observing what occurred in the states that legalized marijuana that Maine schools would probably continue to prohibit weed. But he is hopeful that schools will start to treat marijuana like alcohol, a substance that is certainly widely abused on campuses nationwide and that Boyer said is undoubtedly linked to sexual assault and other issues.

“When people realize the sky hasn’t fallen, it will be relaxed on campus,” Boyer said. “I’m convinced marijuana use is still going on, but we don’t think colleges should be punishing students for using a legal product.”