When it comes to cannabis conflict between state and federal marijuana laws, college campuses are fast becoming a key battleground. Challenging decades-old drug policies at universities across the country, students (and former students) in states where the drug is legal are taking their schools to court over marijuana-driven discipline.
Our Los Angeles marijuana lawyers can explain that numerous schools have taken action against students for using the drug in violation of campus rules. Representatives for the schools say they have little choice. They risk the loss of invaluable federal dollars if they violate U.S. law, which considers the drug a Schedule I narcotic – something highly dangerous, addictive and with no medicinal value.
This has been a particular problem for those studying certain medical specialties (including nursing) who must submit to random drug testing according to to school policy.
In one case out of Arizona, a student studying diagnostic sonography alleges she was wrongfully expelled for using medical marijuana prescribed to treat chronic pain, the result of polycystic ovary syndrome, characterized by irregular, extended and painful menstrual cycles. There is no known cure and it affects 1 in 10 menstruating women. Even though she told USA Today she is never under the influence of the drug in class (she uses it to help her sleep, she said), the school’s drug policy is one of zero tolerance. When she tested positive for the drug, one of her professors assured her there would be no issue as long as she had a medical marijuana card. The professor was wrong. School administrators showed up mid-lesson and escorted her off campus. She’s now suing, alleging violation of rights under Arizona’s medical marijuana law.
Further, that student (along with several others) said numerous health workers employed by the university gave them the green light to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, so long as they had a medical marijuana card. Then, higher-ranking administrators stepped in and reversed course.
In taking legal action against the school, students expelled for medical marijuana use are seeking reimbursement for tuition spent on various expenses plus additional damages. For its part, the school maintains it has a zero tolerance policy. Many schools maintain codes of conduct that expressly state students with medical marijuana cards can’t use the drug on campus or in residence halls and that those who do will be subject to disciplinary action and/or arrest.
It’s uncertain how the case will play out, but courts and lawmakers have been grappling with this for years. In 2012, lawmakers in Arizona banned medical marijuana on college campuses. However, the state supreme court effectively repealed that law last year in ruling that the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act of 2010 protects students using medical marijuana. That law does stipulate medical marijuana is banned at prek-12 schools, but makes no mention of college campuses. In the state supreme court ruling, justices wrote that the state failed to show a university would lose – or has ever lost – federal funding as a result of a state prosecutor’s choice not to prosecute violations of university policy. Some schools have been reviewing their policies as a result, but clearly some have yet to change.
This isn’t just an Arizona problem. As it stands, 33 states plus Washington, D.C., allow medicinal marijuana and 11 states (including California) have legalized recreational marijuana – laws that continue to clash with arcane federal drug laws.
In another case out of Connecticut, a nursing student sued university after testing positive for the drug, which she obtained with a medical marijuana card in her home state of Massachusetts. That lawsuit was later settled with the court ordering the school to allow her to return to her rounds. Prior to the settlement, she had stopped using marijuana and passed her drug screens.
In Florida, a woman is suing her former university after she was expelled from the nursing program when she tested positive for the drug – even though she had a medical marijuana card. That lawsuit is still pending.
Most all legal challenges against colleges and universities on this front appear to have been brought by users of medical, not recreational, marijuana. This makes sense considering most states require individuals to be at least 21 to possess/use the drug for recreation, leaving most college students boxed out. Medical marijuana, though, is different. Most state laws say if you’re 18 with a medical marijuana card (or under 18 with a medical marijuana card AND parental approval), you can legally use the drug as medicine.
It should be noted that even if universities insist on having some type of anti-marijuana policy, there is no law that says they have to expel students. Much of this is at the school’s discretion.
A college education is an investment, and students/medical marijuana patients suffer tangible losses when action like this is taken. It’s imperative to discuss your rights with an experienced marijuana lawyer who can advise you of how you might recover those damages and resume your career path.
The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, ancillary companies, patients, doctors and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.
She was expelled for using prescribed medical marijuana, now she’s suing the college, Oct. 28, 2019, By Dave Collins, USA Today