NPR recently looked at the problem some colleges have when students with medical marijuana prescriptions bring their drugs with them onto campus– because it’s illegal under federal law, colleges which allow it are at risk for losing federal funding.
Nurse: So what we have here is an issue where a single substance is both a prescription medication under state law and an illegal substance under federal law. So. . . houston, we have a problem. Lawyer, what happens when state law and federal law conflict? We know that the feds could pull funding, but what else? I feel like I heard noise from the federal government that enforcing marijuana laws in states where it was legal was not a priority.
Lawyer: Well, basically, it’s still illegal. The state and the feds act in tandem, and the state has said this isn’t a crime, but the feds have said it is, so the state cops can’t arrest you but the DEA still could. Though as I recall, the Obama administration had decided it wasn’t going to prosecute medical marijuana. It hasn’t been all that much of a problem in the more general sense, but this federal funding thing is thorny.
Nurse: I’ve heard an argument about this which amounts to, “come on, you can’t let these college kids have pot prescriptions, it’s a crock of shit and they’ll just sell it to their buddies.” But, well, first of all, no, there are legitimate medical uses and everyone knows that, and second, state law has already said it’s ok, so the “come on” argument just doesn’t work.
Lawyer: But state law doesn’t trump federal law. So the feds can still say “come on,” even if the state says it’s okay. In any event, the thing that college kids are getting prescriptions for and selling to their friends isn’t marijuana — it’s aderall.
Nurse: Imagine this scenario with another drug– something that isn’t illegal under federal law– and it becomes ridiculous. Your student in chronic pain from a car accident can’t have percocet? Your student with ADD can’t have adderall? Your student with cramps can’t have motrin? The college gets to make rules about these things? But when we have this conflict with federal law, this is not longer a patient specific, private issue. Hmmmm.
Lawyer: What I want to know — and this article doesn’t say — is why they think they may lose their funding. Certainly the feds could do that, but have they given any indication whatsoever that they intend to? I also wonder what exactly we’re looking at here in terms of policies. If the college is silent on the matter — i.e., they have a policy that says generally that students are entitled to use drugs for which they have a valid prescription, but are not entitled to use recreational drugs — where is the issue? Do they need pot-specific policies that would draw this kind of scrutiny? Certainly the student would be subject to the same risks he’d be taking if he used the drug anywhere — the feds could always come for him. Why is it on the college, unless they somehow specifically go out of their way to allow it? No one is talking about student health physicians writing these prescriptions.
In the mean time, it’s a shame if indeed there are students who cannot attend classes because they need the medication, and their colleges are too risk-averse to deal with the situation and give them access to education as needed.