Federal law has made life difficult for many state institutions—most notably, college campuses—that find themselves in the midst of an ugly battle between federal and state law.
However, university attendees have begun to fight back. A new trend has arrived on campus, and it’s one that doesn’t appear to be leaving anytime soon—college students disciplined for medical marijuana use are suing the institutions barring them from using their professionally recommended medication.
And for good reason.
An Influx of Medical Marijuana Lawsuits
31-year-old college student Sheida Assar told the Associated Press, via Kyma.com, that GateWay Community College —a Phoenix, Arizona-based campus—expelled her after she tested positive for THC on a drug test. Assar suffers from polycystic ovary syndrome and was prescribed the plant for chronic pain— one of the many qualifying conditions in Arizona’s extensive MMJ program.
“They yanked me out of class in the middle of the school day,” Assar told the press. “They escorted me to the administration like I was a … criminal. It’s discrimination, and it also violates my rights under the Arizona medical marijuana law.” Last year, an Arizona Supreme Court ruling reversed a 2012 state law that made possession or use of marijuana on college campuses a crime.
Assar, who was studying diagnostic medical sonography at the Arizona community college, claims her instructor told her she wouldn’t face any problems if she presented her Arizona medical marijuana card at the time of the drug test. This was not the case, however, and Assar now seeks to recoup the $2,000 she spent in tuition. Assar also claimed she was ever under the influence of marijuana while on campus.
This legal issue most often impacts students in nursing and other medical-related fields. Universities require medical specialty students to submit to mandatory drug testing, which has resulted in a plethora of positive tests that were, by state law, legal.
But federal legality is a different ballgame.
Considering that many institutions are federally-funded, universities have historically erred on the side of caution when it comes to cannabis use.
Per the AP, Nursing student Kaitlin McKeon, of Naples, Florida is also currently suing her former school— Nova Southeastern University—for her expulsion last year. McKeon is part of Florida’s MMJ program for a variety of conditions. Like Assar, McKeon said that school officials initially told her that her marijuana-use would be permitted under law. That is, until, she tested positive for the plant.
Kathryn Magner, another nursing student, sued Sacred Heart University in Connecticut last month after testing positive for cannabis, despite having a state-issued medical card. According to her lawsuit, Magner was barred from attending her required clinical medical rounds. A judge ruled that she should be allowed to return to her medical rounds. The lawsuit was later settled on undisclosed terms.
Meanwhile, the onus is currently on universities to make a change to their pre-existing rules. Jared Moffat, a campaign coordinator for the Marijuana Policy Project, told the AP that there are ways for colleges to do their part to work with MMJ patients. One potential resolution, he said, is decriminalizing cannabis on campus altogether.
“Universities can effectively decriminalize it, de-punish it and make it not something they focus on,” Moffat said.
The Other End of the ‘Spectrum’
While some universities are resisting the changing medical landscape, others are embracing it. Most notably, Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, Illinois, which became the first college in the state to designate a cannabis-specific academic program.
This fall semester, Oakton launched The Cannabis Dispensary and Patient Care Specialist Certificate to provide training and information to those with an interest in the burgeoning medical marijuana industry.
Assistant vice president of academic affairs Ruth Williams said the program was initially met with great enthusiasm and it’s continued to garner momentum.
“We currently have 100 students enrolled,” she said. “Over 400 students are on our wait list for the program, so we’re looking to expand the program this spring.”