Colleges and Medical Schools Reveal New Tensions between State and Federal Law

Marijuana legalization is drawing attention to conflicts between state and federal laws. Colleges and universities have become a battleground for hashing out discrepancies and precedent in medical marijuana usage.

According to KCRG, in states where medical marijuana is legal, students disciplined for using it are suing their schools. Specifically, legal challenges are coming from nursing students and those in other medical specialties who, under school policy, must undergo occasional random drug testing.

College officials argue they could lose important federal funding for failing to follow federal laws that label all cannabis use – both recreational and medicinal – illegal. However, state legislation has made medical use legal in some parts of the country. When hardline laws hold the purse strings, which legislative body comes out on top?

The Case in Arizona

Arizona schools have become a hotbed for hashing out this issue. The state legalized medical use of marijuana in 2010, and in 1996, an initiative passed that allowed doctors to prescript cannabis. The state’s history with medical use is a surprisingly long one, and while a recreational use initiative was shot down in 2016, its medical laws remain fairly liberal.

Last year, the Arizona Supreme Court overturned a 2012 state law that made possession or use of marijuana on college campuses a crime. It is no longer illegal for the drug to be on college campuses, and it is legal for many students to use it for medicinal purposes. But colleges continue to uphold federal law for fear of losing important federal funding.

Arizona is one of 33 states, plus Washington D.C., that allow medical marijuana. Federal law continues to prohibit its use. With more than half of the United States legalizing the plant for medicinal purposes, conflicts are beginning to arise where state and federal funding meet.

Lawsuits May Provide an Answer

There are several ongoing lawsuits taking place around the country, including in Florida, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. These lawsuits have the potential to set legal precedent on the use of medical marijuana at colleges, but they could also shift the conversation toward a more liberal interpretation of federal marijuana laws.

In the meantime, advocates are encouraging colleges and universities to lighten penalties for medical marijuana use. This will prevent students from facing expulsion or suspension, effectively decriminalizing the drug.

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