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Mediating the Regulation and Distribution of Recreational Marijuana

Following Tuesday’s election, the attention of both the media and the American public has been focused primarily on the outcome of the presidential race. As a result, ballot initiatives on the state-level have, understandably, taken a backseat. Now that some of the initial dust has settled, it’s important to take the time to examine the questions that passed and consider how they will affect the community.

Ballot questions surrounding the legalization of recreational marijuana received the most attention this election cycle, as five states voted on the issue on November 8. Legalization was approved in Massachusetts by a 54-46 margin, with Maine, Nevada, and California also voting yes on their respective ballot initiatives. These states join Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Alaska, all of whom legalized recreational marijuana in previous elections. Recreational use remains illegal on the federal level.

In many ways, the regulation and sale of marijuana in Massachusetts will parallel the current laws about alcohol. Adults 21 and older will be allowed to possess up to 10 ounces of marijuana in their homes, and up to one ounce in public. Each individual will also be permitted to grow up to 6 marijuana plants on their property. Like alcohol, marijuana will be sold, taxed, and regulated.

The implementation of this law will take time. Recreational use will officially become legal on December 15, but licenses for marijuana dispensaries will not be distributed until January 2018. So if you’re currently googling what stores are selling weed, you’ll need to wait a few months.

At a private institution like BC, students may be wondering how the law will affect them and to what extent recreational marijuana will be permitted on campus. This won’t be answered quickly or simply, as the initiative was approved just days ago and it will take time for BC’s administration to respond and form policies. However, colleges in states that have already legalized marijuana can serve as a guideline for what may come at BC.

In Colorado, recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012, and thus the state’s colleges have already implemented policies and seen the impact of these laws. There tends to be a notion that marijuana is widely accessible and allowed in states with legal recreational use, and while this may be true by law, it doesn’t necessarily apply to universities.

Some colleges, like University of Colorado Boulder and Naropa University in Boulder, are dry campuses, and therefore marijuana consumption is not allowed on school grounds. These schools also struggle with the disparity between state and federal laws surrounding marijuana: although recreational uses is permitted by the state, it is still illegal on the federal level. For public schools that rely on federal funding, they defer to the federal law or risk losing their funding.

Although these policies don’t necessarily apply to BC, they are evidence that the process of forming a pragmatic policy surrounding recreational use is a multi-faceted one. Since BC is a wet campus, allowing students of age to drink on school grounds, it’s possible that a similar policy could be implemented for marijuana use. And while the issue is complicated by the fact that marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, BC is a private university and thus would not be subject to funding issues.

From a practical standpoint, it would be incredibly difficult for the administration to enforce a complete ban on marijuana possession on campus. As dispensaries open throughout the state, access to marijuana will skyrocket, and students of age will be able to buy and possess it legally. The line would also blur when it comes to off-campus housing, as students aren’t living on school grounds but are still subjected to university policies. As a result, it is more likely that BC will see the implementation of a wet campus policy in line with that of alcohol use.

At the same time, it will be interesting to see how BC’s identity as a Jesuit institution will play a role in the administration’s response to the passing of this ballot initiative. There is definitely a stigma surrounding marijuana use that doesn’t exist with alcohol, and this is particularly evident at private religious colleges like BC.

Ultimately, the legalization of recreational marijuana in Massachusetts and so many other states reflects a changing societal attitude towards marijuana use. BC’s administration will need to adapt to these changing values and create policies that will simultaneously align with the university’s identity and create practical and reasonable rules that can be successfully implemented as this law comes into effect.

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