Handbook clarifies marijuana policy

by Victoria Nelsen | 9/25/14 6:57pm

Though New Hampshire has legalized medical marijuana, use at Dartmouth is still prohibited. The College is constrained by federal regulations that classify any use of the drug as illegal — regulations that if broken could mean a loss of federal funding, including grants and financial aid. As a result, Dick’s House and Student Accessibility Services assist students who have been prescribed the drug to find alternative treatments or off-campus housing.

In a recent change, the student handbook now specifies that medical marijuana is not permitted on campus and details the federal laws that mandate its prohibition, interim Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer announced in a campus-wide email on Sept. 15. This marks a clarification, not a shift in policy.

Colleges in states that legalized medical and recreational marijuana years ago still prohibit use of the drug on their campuses, and Judicial Affairs director Leigh Remy said that Dartmouth looked to these policies for models when considering its own.

The handbook now states that the College prohibits the “cultivation, possession, use or distribution of marijuana, even for state-certified medical purposes” on campus, at College-sponsored events and in College-affiliated housing.

The handbook recommends that students who are prescribed medical marijuana contact Student Accessibility Services.

Student Accessibility Services director Ward Newmeyer said that only one or two students have approached his office with inquiries about medical marijuana.

He added that the office has begun discussions with Remy and attorneys in the General Counsel office about how to handle such requests as more states move toward legalization.

“Medical marijuana is simply one of many tools that people use to mitigate things related to illness or chronic health conditions, or some sort of disability,” Newmeyer said. “There are some federal laws which tend to trump state laws that affect the College, and the College would take a lot of risks if it didn’t comply with those.”

Student Accessibility Services directs some students to Dick’s House to explore legal alternatives to medical marijuana, Newmeyer said. For others, living off-campus in Vermont, where medical marijuana has been legal for a decade, is a better option.

If a first-year student with a medical marijuana prescription were to approach the office, Newmeyer said he would encourage the administration to allow that student to live off-campus, though the College typically requires first-year students to live on campus.

“We want to help people engage in the best decision making possible,” Newmeyer said, adding that institutional policies do not always fit every individual’s circumstances. “In my experience, colleges and universities tend to have a certain level of flexibility about those things as long as they’re really well thought-out, and as long as the tweaking of that policy or making an exception to it is very clearly defined.”

Students for Sensible Drug Policy executive director Betty Aldworth said the organization, a national student network and non-profit, supports marijuana legislation because science has proven it to have effective medicinal qualities.

Aldworth said that a “blanket prohibition of marijuana possession” is a violation of patients’ rights.

“Every other medicine is allowed on campuses,” Aldworth said. “There isn’t a prohibition on any medication for cancer or epilepsy, aside from marijuana.”

Aldworth said that, ideally, colleges would set aside rooms where people could inhale cannabis.

Though colleges must prohibit marijuana or other drugs, Aldworth said that individual colleges determine what the penalties and sanctions are for students caught violating these rules. She said she believes that colleges should make their penalties minimal or nonexistent in order to support students who are prescribed medical marijuana.

Caitlin Barthelmes, who works in student health promotion and wellness and provides alcohol and other drug prevention services to students, said that she would refer inquiries about cannabis to Student Accessibility Services. She added that her role is to advise to students who are looking to reduce or make changes around their recreational drug use, rather than medical use.

The 2014 Dartmouth Health Survey states that 84 percent of respondents had not used marijuana within the past 30 days or had never used it.