Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
There is a gap between state and federal drug policy, and University of Maryland students are caught in the middle.
Marijuana remains criminalized under federal law, but not at the state level. Maryland has decriminalized “the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana for people who are at least 21 years old,” so it stands to reason that this university would have a similar drug policy in place. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
According to Keira Martone, assistant director of Resident Life for Student Conduct, this university’s reliance on federal funding forces the department to comply with federal law. As a result, student residents can lose their on-campus housing, face a suspension or be expelled for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
A resolution has been proposed to the Student Government Association to change the current ban. One goal of this resolution would be to “remove potential housing termination and suspension or expulsion for student residents over 21 years old who possess less than 10 grams of marijuana.” This common sense measure would prioritize the rights of Maryland students over outdated drug law.
However, this university seems content to defer to the position of criminalization. While it may be a safer path in terms of funding, this kind of drug policy is draconian.
Policies that crack down on marijuana use have minimal public health or safety benefits and are almost certain to produce biased results. An American Civil Liberties Union study found that black citizens are almost four times more likely than white ones to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite using the drug at the same rates. To assume college campuses are free from racially disparate outcomes would be a grave mistake.
There is also legal disagreement over the rights of colleges in states with more liberal drug laws. An Arizona appeals court recently decriminalized possession of medical marijuana on college campuses — striking down a previous ban by the state — because possession is legal on the state level in Arizona. We could begin to see more cases that undermine the argument that universities have a right to ignore state law. And whatever the courts say, a change in how we think about marijuana is already underway.
Decades of wrongheaded drug policy have produced a complicated relationship between our society and marijuana. The same country that disproportionately jails black people for possession of the drug also celebrates white “marijuana moms” on the Today show. We seem lost in the transition from viewing pot as public menace to entrepreneurial opportunity. This confusion has a deeply racialized history, and the resulting policy is contradictory. This university feels, in some ways, like a symbol for this hypocrisy. We are a flagship institution in a state that decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug and yet fall in line with national laws that categorically ban it.
The Department of Resident Life owes it to its students to clarify its policy and update the rules for our changing world. A student should not lose their housing or be expelled for possessing an amount of marijuana the state would not deem a crime. Leaving the current policy untouched invites biased and unwarranted outcomes.
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous headline stated Maryland legalized marijuana. Maryland decriminalized marijuana but hasn’t legalized it. The headline has been updated.
Jack Lewis is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.