Editorial: Tufts should draw down certain marijuana restrictions

As the opioid crisis ravages the country, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has clamped down on marijuana. The marijuana debate is still very nuanced and contentious, and federal regulations aren’t expected to change for now.

Currently marijuana is a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. However, Massachusetts, along with 28 other states and the District of Columbia, has passed legislation that has legalized medical marijuana and will legalize recreational marijuana by July 2018.

Distribution companies are already moving into the market. The question, then, is how should Tufts find a new balance between federal and state legislation? While there are good reasons for the university’s current stance on marijuana, it should lessen marijuana restrictions for students who are 21 and older as well as for students with medical marijuana permits.

Both sides of the national marijuana debate make reasonable claims. Proponents of marijuana have pointed out the creation of a multimillion-dollar industry and the procurement of tax money from the black market. On principle, proponents have emphasized the therapeutic benefits of marijuana in comparison to other drugs (e.g. opiates) and that these regulations have disproportionately incarcerated minority groups and have racist origins. However, proponents claim, rightly, that legalization should come with stronger production and distribution regulation, rehabilitation services and economic development.

Opponents, including Sessions, have argued that marijuana is a gateway drug. Though the correlation between marijuana consumption and increased use of opiates is debatable (and many could reasonably argue against Sessions’ definition of “recreation”), evidence from reputable agencies shows the addictive and harmful effects of marijuana.

Massachusetts has taken steps to legalize marijuana. In 2012, voters approved the medicinal marijuana statute, which allowed physician-certified patients over 18 years old with specific medical conditions to possess and use marijuana. In the November 2016 elections, voters passed by referendum a law officially legalizing recreational marijuana. The law will come into effect after July 1, 2018, allowing retailers to sell recreational marijuana to people who are at least 21 years old under the oversight of the newly created Cannabis Control Commission.

However, the referendum also allows towns and cities within Massachusetts to ban and control marijuana. According to an Oct. 22 Salem News article, more than 100 Massachusetts cities and towns have imposed some sort of restriction, including bans or moratoriums, following the passage of the referendum.

In Somerville, the law has been smoothly implemented under the guidance of State Senator Pat Jehlen, who serves as chair of the Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy. Sage Naturals, located in Davis Square, has become the first registered medical marijuana dispensary to open in Somerville. It plans to conduct home deliveries in addition with other medical dispensaries authorized to conduct them now, including the Patriot Care of Boston and Lowell and the Garden Remedies of Newton, in Greater Boston. Garden Remedies, in particular, has offered to deliver marijuana to college campuses to students with legal medical marijuana cards.

Tufts University is in a unique position. Tufts, along with every university in the Boston area, penalizes the consumption, manufacturing, sale and possession of marijuana on campus. This is because Tufts is provided with federal grants dependent on its compliance with the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (DFSCA) and the Drug-Free Workplace Act. The administration must submit reports every two to three years to verify its compliance with the DFSCA. Thus, in response to recent offers made by medical marijuana dispensaries, Tufts Deputy Director of Public Safety Leon Romprey noted in an email to the Daily that “If we come into contact with a medical marijuana delivery driver on campus, they would be directed to leave the property of the university and are subject to other legal action.”

Currently the university advises students in need of medical marijuana to live off campus, which places them under state jurisdiction. They may submit a letter to the Dean of Student Affairs, requesting they be released from their university housing and dining contract.

The university has been caught in a difficult position. On the one hand, it receives $150 million in Government Grants and Contracts (16.7 percent of its income), and losing that money would significantly impact the university. On the other, marijuana has been legalized in Massachusetts and it has health benefits. Moving forward, the university should change its disciplinary code to better reflect that of its surrounding community.

One area for change would be to change the sanction levels for marijuana offenses, which are currently handled as part of Tufts’ Policies on Alcohol and Other Drugs. For individuals who are over 21 or have a Massachusetts-issued medical marijuana card, Tufts should increase the number of violations required before a student faces probation (this number is currently three).

Treating the drug separately and more leniently, to reflect its status in Massachusetts, would be a positive step forward.