WSU warns no pot on campus even if I-502 passes
Even if an initiative to legalize marijuana passes next week, the drug likely won’t be allowed on public college campuses in Washington any time soon.
Initiative 502 would legalize the drug for medicinal and recreational uses, but a 1989 federal law would still ban marijuana on college campuses. Under the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act of 1989, institutions that allow illegal drugs on campuses can be audited and lose federal funding.
“We can’t do anything that would threaten federal funding,” said Darin Watkins, spokesman for Washington State University.
At the University of Washington, the passage of I-502 is not likely to change the university’s ban on marijuana, said Norm Arkans, a university spokesman.
“We would comply with the law that governs where those dollars flow,” Arkans said.
At state universities, officials are trying to answer a tricky question: How can the university comply with federal law without interfering with the rights of patients who have a prescription for medical marijuana? That picture may be clouded even more by the passage of the initiative.
Mark Cooke, drug policy advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said conflicting marijuana laws and policy have perplexed patients, as well as officials enforcing the various laws and policies.
“The current law doesn’t provide a lot of protection for patients,” Cooke said. “There’s a lot of confusion among the local government about how they should handle this issue. So it doesn’t surprise me to hear that there’s confusion at the college level as well.”
At WSU, all smoking — including cigarettes and slow-burning incense — is banned in residence halls. The university also prohibits marijuana use and possession on campus, even for those with medical prescriptions, Watkins says.
But Edwin Hamada, director of Residence Life at WSU, said the ban on marijuana is sometimes difficult to enforce in the dorms, especially when it comes to edibles, such as brownies baked with marijuana butter. This poses a conundrum for resident advisers, the primary enforcers of the policy in dorms. Unlike campus police, the advisers are students’ peers.
“It’s a sticky situation,” he said. “They’re not going to turn their back on policy, but also not going out of their way [to look for marijuana use].”
But there have been citations and even arrests of prominent WSU students. In 2011, a drug task force arrested an outspoken pro-marijuana student at the university, sending waves of fear through pot activists on campus.
Tyler Markwart, who had a prescription for the drug, said he was delivering marijuana to medical patients on campus and on the Palouse.
“I was producing and distributing high-quality medication at very low prices,” said Markwart, who founded the nonprofit Allele Seeds Research Group and lobbied WSU leaders to begin growing the plant on campus for research. “But I wasn’t just trying to set up a pot shop — I was trying to work gradually into it to see if I could get the support of the community behind me, so I started a delivery service.”
Markwart, 31, said he made several medical marijuana deliveries to patients on campus. Some of these patients lived in dorms and in campus housing, he said. In fact, Markwart said he used marijuana in the 21-and-older dorms as well.
“I used my vaporizer every day in my dorm room, with no problems from the RA, as they knew I was a medical patient,” he said in a Facebook message to a reporter.
In August, a Whitman County Superior Court judge sentenced Markwart to 80 days in jail and a $10,000 fine for three counts of felony marijuana delivery. He plans to appeal the sentence.
Watkins said students are prohibited from using marijuana in dorms, but agreed that the ban can be difficult to enforce. However, the university tries to accommodate medical marijuana users: The university waives the first-year on-campus housing requirement for students with medical cards, Watkins said.
Student advocates say they don’t want to jeopardize federal funding for the university. However, Topsanna Littlestar, vice president of WSU’s branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the initiative — whether it passes or fails — might have relatively little impact on campus.
“There’s a lot of people who smoke on campus anyway,” she said. “They smoke in their dorms, they smoke on campus, they smoke joints walking to class. They do it anyway. So they’re going to keep doing what they’re doing right now, and they’re going to have a little bit less fear of getting busted for it.”
The Murrow News Service provides local, regional and statewide stories reported and written by journalism students at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.