Pubdate: Sun, 17 Aug 2014
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2014 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Matt Rocheleau


Colleges, Mindful of Federal Rules, Draw Ire by Keeping Stiff

Thomas Burke Jr., a 25-year-old US combat veteran and Yale University
grad student, has a physician's permission to use medical marijuana in
Connecticut to treat PTSD symptoms.

Although medical marijuana has been legal in Massachusetts for nearly
two years, many local colleges are putting out the message to students
as the fall semester nears: You still can't use it on campus, even if
a doctor says it's medicinal.

College administrators have reaffirmed policies banning the drug in
all forms, and that includes for students who have a doctor's
recommendation. They say their hands are tied by federal regulations,
which still classify marijuana as an illegal drug, and they worry that
allowing cannabis use of any kind could lead to the loss of federal
funding, including student financial aid.

"I'm scared I'm either going to go under-medicated and suffer physical
consequences if I can't use my medicine enough, or I'm going to face
consequences from the school if I get caught," said Max, an incoming
Boston University freshman, who asked that his last name not be
published for fear of being singled out by the college. He says he has
certification from a Massachusetts doctor to use marijuana to treat
gastrointestinal issues that cause significant weight loss and stomach

Students caught using marijuana on campuses can face punishment
ranging from a warning to expulsion.

But other medical marijuana patients and advocates say colleges are
being overly cautious. Forbidding the use of a state-recognized,
doctor-authorized medicine is unfair, unethical, and a detriment to
students, faculty, and others who use the drug to treat ailments, they

"We would like to see schools recognize, as many states and millions
and millions of individuals and doctors have done, that marijuana is
in fact valid medicine for the patients that are using it, and
treating it differently than other medications is harmful to students
and faculty who have chosen to use medical marijuana," said Betty
Aldworth, director of Students for Sensile Drug Policy, a national
student network pushing for an overhaul of drug laws.

The issue has gained attention locally as more formal patient
certifications are set to become available in Massachusetts and as
dispensaries are expected to open across the state within several months.

Some schools - including Boston University, Tufts University, and
Amherst, Curry, Emerson, Hampshire, and Wheelock colleges - that ban
medical marijuana on campus try to help students with certifications
to find alternatives. One way is to allow the students to opt out of
on-campus housing contracts and requirements so they can pursue
treatment off-campus.

BU dean of students Kenneth Elmore said "a few" students with medical
marijuana certifications have approached campus officials since the
state voted to legalize medical use in Nov. 2012, asking whether the
documentation allows them to use the drug on campus without
repercussions. It does not, Elmore said. Those students are referred
to campus health officials to privately discuss alternatives.

"We'd work with the student on that sort of thing," he

But, Elmore added: "We don't make a distinction between medical and
recreational marijuana. We simply don't allow marijuana on our campus.
Federally, it is illegal, and smoking causes disruptions on campus."

Advocates point out that medical marijuana can be consumed in other
ways, including by vaporizing the drug, eating cannabis-infused foods
and drinks, or even taking a pill containing marijuana's active
ingredient, THC.

The ban on cannabis use - medical or otherwise - also appears to be
widespread at campuses across the other 22 states and Washington,
D.C., where local laws permit patients with doctor-issued
certifications to use the drug for treatment.

Thomas C. Burke Jr., 25, a student at Yale Divinity School who said he
has a doctor's certification to use the drug in Connecticut, says he
has largely avoided problems by being discrete or by only using
marijuana off campus.

Burke said his certification is to use the drug in Connecticut, where
it became legal in 2012, to treat symptoms of post-traumatic stress
disorder he has suffered since serving in combat zones in Iraq and

"I try to make it as little of a distraction as possible and be as
accommodating as I can to others," said Burke, who supplements his use
with cognitive therapy.

Still, colleges' rules on medical marijuana cause uneasiness.

"For most veterans with PTSD, which is an anxiety disorder, the
anxiety of having to worry about being penalized or seen as a criminal
keeps them from medicating," said Burke.

"We are not just doing drugs during the day, we are medicating
ourselves, which allows us to be productive members of society."

Thomas C. Burke Jr. said that he has avoided problems using medical
marijuana by being discrete or by only using it off campus. Many
colleges remind students the drug is banned.

While numerous Massachusetts colleges have affirmed their bans in
student and employee conduct policies, some campuses - including
Eastern Nazarene and Mount Holyoke colleges - say they are weighing
whether to revise their policies.

"It is unclear what impact, if any, a change in policy would have on
federal funding," said Jeffrey Kirksey, vice president for student
development and retention at Eastern Nazarene, in Quincy.

That lack of clarity stems, in part, from mixed messages from federal

The Justice Department said in a memorandum last year that it focuses
enforcement on the most serious marijuana-related violations, and it
is "not an efficient use of federal resources to focus enforcement
efforts on seriously ill individuals, or on their individual

However, in 2011, the White House Office of National Drug Control
Policy and the Education Department wrote a letter warning campuses
that deviating from federal rules could put their federal funding at

"The administration's stance hasn't changed since then," drug control
policy office spokeswoman Cameron Hardesty told the Globe last week.

Advocates, however, say it is unrealistic to believe the US government
would cut off funding to colleges over the issue.

"I understand not wanting to risk millions of dollars in federal
funding, but no college has ever lost federal funding for changing
their drug or alcohol policies,"said Connor McKay, a 22-year-old
Northeastern University senior and president of the campus chapter of
Students for Sensible Drug Policy. "Colleges could and should at least
accommodate students who need to use it."
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MAP posted-by: Matt