As more states legalize marijuana, districts struggle to keep the drug out of the hands of students — and to discipline students using or carrying the substance in school, District Administration reports. Marijuana is legal to varying degrees in 33 states and Washington, D.C., making it easier for students to acquire.
Marijuana “carries more risk than ever” according to the U.S. Surgeon General, with professionally grown pot often higher in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects, than it used to be. THC can be as high as 90% in edibles.
Most of the students who report using marijuana say they smoke it, but the rate of edible consumption is growing, and the rate of vaping has also dramatically increased between 2015 and 2017. Since cannabis is becoming increasingly legal, some districts — such as Gwinnett County Schools in Georgia — will also no longer arrest students for misdemeanor charges.
As attitudes toward marijuana change, schools are caught in the disconnect between state and federal laws. Even in states where the drug is legal, educators can’t use the substance for any purpose — including medical — without the risk of the school losing federal funding.
Even if the teacher has medical clearance, consumption remains illegal according to federal law, and off-campus use could still be detected in a drug test. Districts in states where the drug is legal are looking at ways to circumvent this issue, such as giving staff plenty of notice before a drug test and disregarding the positive drug tests if a teacher has a medical marijuana card. Some states are opting to only test teachers who appear high.
To offset the loss of tobacco revenue, some states are channeling the revenue from marijuana sales into schools and children’s programs. For example, California’s Proposition 64 will direct its sales tax revenue into early-childhood education programs. Sales in California are expected to generate more than $1 billion in tax revenue. The proposition requires funds be spent on youth education, drug prevention and early intervention programs.
In higher education, marijuana is embraced as an experiment in public policy and a new industry development. Paul Seaborn, a professor at the University of Denver, launched a class called “Business of Marijuana” in 2017, which looks at the market, its history and social impact, and its complicated legal position. Since the Farm Bill took hemp out of the Controlled Substances Act, there is also expected to be a surge in research and entrepreneurial opportunities in this field.