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The Dartmouth
May 19, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

New Hampshire Marijuana Bill Advances, Prompting Discussions About Marijuana At Dartmouth

Katharine Bramante ’26 investigates the possibility of legalized marijuana usage on Dartmouth’s campus.

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On Feb. 22, New Hampshire House of Representatives advanced a cannabis legalization bill to its Ways and Means Committee. Although the bill still needs to clear the Senate, this recent action marks a crucial step in potential legalization. In a state where seatbelts are optional for adults and people scream “Live Free or Die” from the rooftops, the state government will now decide whether residents can use marijuana legally. One day before April 20, the informal holiday that celebrates all things marijuana-related, The Dartmouth explores the plausibility of legalized usage on campus. 

Due to the College’s need to remain eligible for federal funding for several programs and grants, including financial aid, legalization in the state legislature would likely not affect Dartmouth’s rules regarding marijuana. 

Currently, “smoking is not permitted on the Dartmouth campus,” Jana Barnello, Dartmouth’s media relations strategist from the Office of Communications wrote in an email statement. The College “will continue to follow federal law in [its] policies, including regulations regarding marijuana.”  

For Dartmouth to even consider allowing marijuana usage on campus, federal legalization of the substance would need to occur. But as more states, such as New Hampshire, take steps to legalize marijuana use, federal legalization seems increasingly plausible. In fact, two predictive models from researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the Santa Fe Institute have forecasted that the likelihood of federal legalization before 2028 is just under 70%, suggesting that federal legalization is very likely within the next five years. 

Scientist and epidemiologist Jacob Borodovsky, who researches cannabis at the Center for Technology and Behavioral Health at Dartmouth, explained how a wave of state legislation in an area typically leads to similar legislation federally, particularly with regards to marijuana. 

“If you go back to like 1900 to 1933, in that period, about two thirds of US states independently made cannabis illegal on their own before the federal government stepped in and created the Marijuana Tax Act,” Borodovsky said. “And now it’s kind of the flip. It’s happening in an opposite way, as since 1996, states have started legalizing.” 

At Dartmouth, there is support both for and against legalized marijuana use on campus, according to three students who spoke with The Dartmouth under the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about their experiences. 

“I think if it were federally legalized, I would support Dartmouth changing its rules because enforcing such strict consequences for something that's federally legal would just seem unfair,” a member of the Class of 2026 said. 

Another member of the Class of 2026 also said that Dartmouth should change its policies around marijuana if federally legalized, though she felt conflicted about legalization and its potential effect on campus culture. 

“If weed were federally legalized, I think Dartmouth should accept the fact. If we took the same approach that we take to alcohol laws, that would be fine,” she said. “However, personally, I don’t think I’d want to be walking to my 9L and smelling someone smoking a joint on my way.”

Borodovsky also emphasized that despite the changing social and health norms regarding marijuana, the drug can still be dangerous. 

“I think an important message is that [legalization] doesn't mean [marijuana] can’t mess you up –– it can mess you up, especially now with how potent [it] is,” he said. “If you don't respect that drug, it’s not going to respect you back.” 

One student also acknowledged that he is aware of the potential negative effects of marijuana, yet he may not oppose its legalization. 

“I definitely think that marijuana, in excessive use, does have negative effects. It’s been shown to atrophy your brain and make you less motivated,” a third member of the Class of 2026 said. “I think that that's obviously not good, but I don't see any issue with recreational use.” 

Borodovsky also discussed the complexities of disciplining marijuana use in a college setting. 

“I think you want to discourage use,” Borodovsky said. “But at the same time, if some poor college kid is caught with like a gram of weed, you don’t want to ruin their life by kicking them out of college, right?”

However, Borodovsky also made it clear that colleges should also prioritize students’ well-being even if the federal government legalizes marijuana. 

“I think colleges in general are in a tough spot because they want to take care of you, and they want to help you grow as a person intellectually and socially,” he said. “So they don’t want to be too punitive, but they don't want to be too lax either.”

This responsibility is heightened by the prevalence of substance abuse at many schools. 

Brian Bowden, the lead counselor at the Student Wellness Center, explained that his role is to “provide resources [and] services to decrease high risk substance use, alcohol and other drugs.”

However, he also thinks that at colleges in states that have legalized marijuana, there hasn’t been a huge increase in marijuana abuse. 

“I wouldn't say there's been a dramatic change [in usage],” Bowden said. “Even when [the legal status] went from illegal to medical, I think it's still a pretty low percentage of our student population [that uses marijuana].” 

Bowden said that regardless of whether the laws change, he wants to make sure students have access to resources about substance abuse and recovery. At the end of the day, the health and wellness of students is his priority, even if that simply means small adjustments in their relationship to drugs.

“As for my position as a healthcare provider, as a counselor, as a substance abuse assistant, the law piece is pretty irrelevant,” Bowden said. “We provide counseling services or educational services that would help to increase a person’s commitment and support of using [marijuana] in a low risk way — [if] that's just decreasing their usage, sometimes that [small action] can be a win for them.”