When Eden Gonzalez, 21, first arrived at California State University Monterey Bay, she wanted to take her doctor-prescribed medication. Her resident adviser said no. The reason? Her medicine was marijuana.
“The biggest problem we were having at CSUMB was the issue with Residential Life,” Gonzalez said. “Campus police were actually pretty cool and I’ve had friends whose med-stash was returned after showing medical proof. But with Res-Life, you can have your medical marijuana, but you can’t smoke it, which is the problem.”
Because of the dorm rules, Gonzalez had to either give up marijuana or her convenience of living on campus. She eventually moved out of the dorms and into an off-campus apartment nearby. Gonzalez now serves as the executive director of CSUMB’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Gonzalez is one of many students trying to figure out how state, federal and university law applies to the use of medical marijuana.
In 1996, California became the first state to allow marijuana for medical use when it passed Proposition 215, The Compassionate Use Act. The new law decriminalized the cultivation and use of medicinal marijuana, cannabis, for ill patients with a doctor’s referral. The guidelines also state that smoking within 1,000 feet of a school is prohibited, unless it is within a residential area.
At Cal State Fullerton, police do not get involved with personal medication issues as long as the drugs are prescribed to the student, stated Sergeant Nigel Williams of CSUF police department.
The California Health and Safety Code states that medical marijuana is to be used for treating a “serious illness” such as cancer, anorexia, AIDS, glaucoma, arthritis and chronic pain, among others. Because “chronic pain” can be linked to many health conditions, the code also allows treatment of, “any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.” These range from anxiety and insomnia to premenstrual syndrome and nausea.
In August 2008, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown, Jr. released the guidelines for the Security and Non-Diversion of Marijuana Grown for Medical Use. In it there are several rules which patients are advised to adhere. The medication must not be consumed at the workplace, any correctional facilities, any place where smoking is prohibited by other laws, in a moving vehicle or motorboat, or within 1,000 feet of a recreation or youth center.
Despite the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 and the further protection given in 2004 by Senate Bill 420, the Medical Marijuana Program Act, California and 13 other states are currently in violation of federal law. The federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 was written to minimize abuse of recreational drugs, including marijuana, and bans its manufacture, distribution and possession, making it a federal crime.
About 50 medical marijuana dispensaries are operating in Orange County, according to the Orange County Register. The nearest to campus is in Santa Ana. The California Criminal Attorney blog reported that the Fullerton city council rejected a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, making it one of a few cities to do so.
State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) introduced the first bill in the state that proposes legalizing and controlling the production and sales of cannabis in February. This second marijuana revolution in California might be open for anyone over the age of 21 who is a resident of the state. Ammiano said the law will treat marijuana much like alcohol in its policies. The bill has not been decided upon yet.
Other pending legislation include, the Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, that would reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, a classification that allows for it to be legally prescribed just as any other Schedule II drug. Currently, medical marijuana is merely “recommended” because of its Schedule I classification. Schedule I drugs include GHB, LSD and psychedelic mushrooms. The new classification would put it on the same plane as other widely prescribed pain relievers like morphine and codeine.
The most recent development in interpreting the marijuana law occurred on Aug. 25 when the California Senate passed a joint resolution that called for the federal government to stop interfering with California policy.
Despite marijuana being legalized for medical purposes more than a decade ago, Cal State Fullerton does not have a protocol for handling patients medicating on campus.
CSUF police continue to stop students from smoking marijuana,”It’s still a federal offense,” Williams said.
CSUF police Lt. Don Landers concurred with Williams, “it is in violation of campus policy and if students bring marijuana with or without a prescription it will still be confiscated,” Landers said.
CSUF police officers would probably not arrest a medical marijuana user. “However the individual will be subject to a judicial citation and referral to the judicial affairs officer on campus,” Landers said.
When asked why it would be a problem at all, Landers answered, “It is against federal law and the university receives federal funding, not just state.”
“Crime of opportunity is big on campus,” Landers said, crimes such as burglaries and petty thefts on campus are of more concern that could directly affects students.
Dale Gieringer, director of the California chapter of NORML stressed, “While Prop 215 prevents students from being criminally prosecuted for possession of medical marijuana, it doesn’t protect them from university rules.”
There is some concern about having “high” students in class and affecting their learning performance whether they are patients or not.
“I have no idea if some of them aren’t already high,” said communications law professor, Genelle Belmas.
Belmas added, “I personally would support the use of medical marijuana in designated smoking areas. I’d be happier if there were separate marijuana and tobacco smoking areas though, as I do think that there should be a choice to avoid the area if desired. If you are a cigarette smoker, you may not want to get second-hand marijuana smoke. I avoid all smoking areas when I can.”
CSUF students are not showing much resistance to medicinal users smoking marijuana on campus, “I don’t really care because it’s not nearly as bad for you as cigarettes are, and those can be smoked anywhere on campus. I think it’s absurd that marijuana is still illegal at all,” said Nick Nevins, 20, political science major.
Freshman Mitchell Loo, 18, echoed the opinion, “I think if smoking cigarettes is okay, and it’s more harmful, then sure, smoking medical marijuana on campus is fine with me. It’s legal.”
By Nicole F. Park
October 15, 2009