While voters in California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts each passed new laws authorizing the recreational possession and use of marijuana on Election Day, colleges and universities across the country quickly made clear that what is legal beyond the campus perimeter will still be disallowed on campus grounds.
But in the years leading up to the historic election of a surprise presidential candidate, and the triumph of pot supporters in states throughout the nation, colleges and universities nationwide have quietly built research enterprise around the study and effects of marijuana consumption, including those taking a hard line on students and faculty who get caught with pot on campus. And with new rules on possession and retail, colleges in authorized states could look to expand hemp-based enterprise even further.
The University of California System was among the earliest organizations to address Proposition 64, which voters approved by a 56-44 margin to allow residents over 21 to possess no more than an ounce of the substance, to grow plants in private homes, and to purchase it legally beginning in January 2018.
Cannabis research is booming
A message about the vote was posted to UC System President Janet Napolitano’s website, outlining the unbending rules on campus use but giving a nod to the system’s cannabis research imprint.
“Notwithstanding Proposition 64, using, distributing and possessing marijuana remains illegal under federal law. The federal Controlled Substances Act criminalizes possession and distribution of controlled substances, including marijuana, with a limited exception for certain federally approved research, The Drug Free Schools and Communities Act and the Drug Free Workplace Act require that UC, as a recipient of federal funding, establish policies that prohibit marijuana use, possession and distribution on campus and in the workplace.”
A sparsely-covered caveat in the voting measure: Tax revenues from the legal sale of marijuana will disburse more than $12 million to research institutions to study the effects of the drug.
One of those research hubs is the University of California, San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR), which has since 2000 conducted clinical trials and research on therapeutic properties of marijuana and its psychiatric effects.
Igor Grant, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the UCSD School of Medicine and director of the CMCR, says that a sobriety test for drivers suspected of marijuana use is next on the Center’s targeted areas of research. In an interview with Southern California Public Radio, Grant said that research generated from the new law and its revenues will have "impacts on public health, including costs associated with marijuana use, as well as whether marijuana use is associated with an increase or decrease in the use of alcohol or other drugs."
Earlier this week, Denver became the first American city to authorize public use of marijuana in bars, clubs and restaurants, and university research that has helped to pace the state in advancing knowledge of the drug’s effects is an element in the legislation's appeal to voters. In 2014, the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment awarded Colorado University’s Anschutz Medical Campus more than $4.5 million to study the effects of therapeutic marijuana treatment in youth inflammatory bowel disease, Parkinson’s, epilepsy and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The new credentialing bootcamp?
With research also comes opportunities for workforce development, a hot topic throughout all of higher education. Could colleges become a new training hub for professional dispensary operators, medical technicians, and health and safety consultants in the burgeoning weed economy?
Companies like the Cannabis Training Institute could be the blueprint for schools in authorized states to consider credentialing or bootcamp training programs for entrepreneurs or novices looking to create new businesses. According to its website, CTI offers web-based training modules to residents in 24 states, and in just under two years since its founding, is part of an industry that yielded more than $2 billion in Colorado in 2015.
There are no two or four-year options in the space, leaving the door open for what appears to be stable business opportunities in a relatively new industry.
No changes to campus policy
Most schools will offer no major changes in policies for public safety or codes of conduct for faculty and students, despite recent research that shows marijuana use among college students has increased by 8% in the last 10 years, from 30% in 2006.
In an interview with the Boston Globe prior to last Tuesday's referendum vote, a Northeastern University spokesperson said that oversight and penalization for drug use on campus was a matter of federal compliance.
“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.”
But observers believe that decriminalizing marijuana extends a better opportunity for social and financial controls, something which colleges are playing an intimate role in developing through research and investment.
“Legalizing something that can have detrimental effects is a way for the government to step in and control its use,” said Northeastern University political science professor John Portz, in a recent interview with the school’s news service. “Better to legalize it than ban it.”