Pot legal in Massachusetts: what’s next for Mount Holyoke students?


Graphic by Hannah Roach '17 

Graphic by Hannah Roach '17 

Massachusetts voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use on Nov. 8, following similar votes in California, Arizona, Maine and Nevada. This event brought a familiar question back into the spotlight: Is marijuana allowed on campus?

The direct answer is no. At Mount Holyoke, consuming or handling marijuana could lead to disciplinary action or even imprisonment. According to the student handbook on the school website, three offenses for marijuana use or one marijuana distribution offense can lead to withdrawal or suspension from school.

One reason for this policy is the conflict between federal and state laws. Under the Federal Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, and its usage, possession or cultivation is prohibited. As a school that receives federal funding for student financial aidand research grants, Mount Holyoke is bound by federal law. 

"Marijuana is a prohibited substance under federal law," said Jennifer Balut, director of the Alcohol & Drug Awareness Program. "The possession, use or sale of marijuana including medical marijuana, in any form, is prohibited on campus and during College activities."

"To ensure that our college receives federal student aid and grants, we must comply with federal policy including the Drug-Free Schools [Act], Communities Act and the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act, which classify marijuana as an illegal drug," Balut said.

The Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization Initiative, also known as Question 4, which legalized recreational marijuana in Massachusetts went into effect on Dec. 15, 2016. Even if the risk of a loss of federal funds wasn't an issue for colleges and universities, this new state law discourages drug use on college campuses. 

The state law limits the legal age to consume recreational marijuana to individuals over 21, excluding many college students. It also forbids smoking marijuana in public spaces, such as campuses. Selling pot remains illegal until January 2018.  

However, the new law does give some leeway to students who live off campus in non-federally subsidized housing. Those who are over 21 may smoke at their residences with the permission of a landlord, and may possess up to 10 ounces of marijuana and six plants inside their home. 

This is not the first time that marijuana has stirred controversy over how Mount Holyoke reconciles state and federal laws. In 2012, when the state legalized marijuana for medical use, Mount Holyoke did not repeal its ban detailed on the website, stating that it does not allow marijuana use even for those holding a "registration card," the permission issued by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The earlier policy conflicted with Associate Dean Rene Davis's statement in an article which appeared in Mount Holyoke News's Sept. 25, 2014 issue. Davis then said, "If a prescription is confirmed, the college would dismiss the violation and work with the student and Health Services to develop an appropriate plan for use."

Despite the official prohibition, marijuana is omnipresent in college life. Though relatively few cases are reported to Residential Life or the Campus Police, many students confess to smoking pot on a regular basis. 

A 20-year-old junior, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, called herself a "baby stoner." She used to make weed brownies – cannabis infused edibles – before smoking weed in a bong, a bubbler or a joint at her friend's house away from campus.

"In terms of stress release and pain killing, it's so good," the student said "The stress culture of this school is insane. Every single year during midterms or finals, people are posting on social media about how they are dying. Being a student here, sometimes I want to pull my hair out too." 

"If there's something that can help you relax, which doesn't have a side effect [like] anti-anxiety pills, I think you should use it by all means," the student added. "There's a huge epidemic of getting people hooked on prescription drugs like Prozac or Xanax. They have so many side effects which make people miserable. Weed is such a great alternative."

A first-year student, who also requested anonymity, said marijuana use is prevalent among her friends. They get the drug through student dealers at Mount Holyoke, Hampshire College and University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and smoke on a daily basis. They smoked in their rooms through a window until protesting posters came up in MacGregor Hall and CAs conducted a stricter search. 

Both students acknowledged the side effects of smoking. "The munchies are real," the junior said, referring to a strong craving for food after smoking weed. "Your mouth craves the sensation of eating food, but your brain can't tell you when you're full." She added that she also noticed a decrease in her lung capacity. 

Yet both students agreed that the side effects of marijuana are minimal compared to other substances. "Weed only makes you lazy and happy without hurting yourself or others. Your brain slows down, your body rests and the only thing you wanna do is lay on your bed eating," the first-year said. "I don't see the point of allowing smoking tobacco while banning weed, which actually has [fewer] negative effects."