Pubdate: Thu, 13 Nov 2014
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2014 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Suzanna Caldwell


The University of Alaska is reminding students and staff regardless 
of marijuana legalization in Alaska, when it comes to school 
policies, nothing is changing.

A memo sent Tuesday evening emphasized while Alaska voters appear to 
have passed Ballot Measure 2, the law legalizing recreational 
marijuana in Alaska, federal law remains unchanged. The university, 
as a recipient of federal funds, has to comply with the Safe and 
Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act and the Drug-Free Workplace 
Act. According to the memo, distributed by UA's general counsel, 
failure to comply with federal law could jeopardize the university's 
continued ability to receive federal funding.

The memo also notes certain employees are subject to drug and alcohol 
testing as part of federal regulations based on the types of work 
they perform. Those subject to testing could be terminated for using 
marijuana even if the use occurred "outside of working hours and 
otherwise in accordance with state law."

University of Alaska spokesperson Carla Beam said the university 
hoped to provide clarity to employees and students of the system 
"sooner rather than later" when it came to marijuana enforcement. She 
noted while the Justice Department acknowledged it wouldn't be 
enforcing minor marijuana crimes, that's an administrative decision, 
not a change in federal law.

"That (decision) could change at any time," Beam said. "As an 
institution of higher education, it doesn't make sense to authorize 
behavior that remains criminal under federal law."

She said the policy does not affect student and staff ability to 
speak about the matter or to do research on marijuana policy. In 
theory, faculty could even do research on marijuana plants, but that 
would take approval from the Drug Enforcement Agency before any 
research could begin.

What the university cannot do is help people grow marijuana. Beam 
said the Cooperative Extension Service has already received calls 
asking about how to grow plants. Because the program receives federal 
funding, it cannot advise people on how to cultivate the plant.

Students living on campus will also not be allowed to possess the 
substance even once the initiative becomes law, according to Michael 
Voltava, UAA director of student conduct and ethical development.

Students older than 21 are allowed to have a small amount of alcohol 
if they live on campus. However, because of the federal restrictions 
on marijuana, students over 21 would not be allowed to possess even a 
small amount even if state law allows it.

However, some changes could potentially be coming. Voltava said the 
university is in the process of reviewing its student sanction model, 
which governs how students are reprimanded for violations. Voltava 
said he's heard of schools in states with marijuana legalization 
changing their marijuana rules to be more in line with alcohol sanctions.

He said at UAA the marijuana sanctions are currently more severe than 
alcohol penalties. That could change during the process of reviewing 
the sanctions, either becoming more or less strict depending on what 
the university decides to do.

UAA junior Daniel Jost said he thought the marijuana memo was 
ultimately a good thing. Jost is the president of Young Optimists for 
Love and Outreach, a student organization that advocated in support 
of Ballot Measure 2. He said he couldn't recall ever seeing weed on 
campus, but he suspects usage is probably in line with the rest of Alaska.

Jost said in advocating for legalizing marijuana he found most 
students and staff he engaged with wanted a constructive dialogue 
about the topic.

He said he hopes however the conversation moves forward at UAA, it 
continues to be constructive. He noted the university recently 
started serving alcohol on campus at the Alaska Airlines Center. Jost 
said having places where adults 21 and older can drink creates an 
environment for responsible drinking. He hasn't heard from students 
hoping to have a similar marijuana establishment on campus, but 
didn't rule out the possibility it could come up.

"If you have an establishment that students of age can go to, where 
they can learn responsible habits in an environment that has rules 
and an environment that has structures and sets norms, just like a 
bar has rules on how much you can drink and what rules you should 
follow when drinking," Jost said. "I think establishments are an 
approach the university should look into."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom