PHOENIX, Ariz. – Challenges between the rights of medical cannabis patients and continued federal prohibition in the U.S. are being tested on college campuses, as media reports this week brought attention to lawsuits—filed by students in legal states—alleging colleges and universities are penalizing students that use medical marijuana.
Schools with “zero tolerance” policies toward student cannabis use, whether medical or recreational, argue they are liable to lose federal funding if they allow even medical cannabis use, since cannabis is still considered an illicit substance under federal regulations.
The Associated Press highlighted three cases, in Arizona, Connecticut, and Florida, where students have filed suits.
In Phoenix, Arizona, student Sheida Assar was expelled from Gateway Community College when she showed positive for cannabis on a drug test presumably administered as part of the process to be certified as a medical technician. Assar argued that she has polycystic ovary syndrome and uses medical marijuana to help with sleep. She is suing for a refund of tuition and other educational expenses.
A nursing student in Connecticut, Kathryn Magner, is suing Sacred Heart University after she tested positive for cannabis use and was prevented from participating in required clinical rounds. From legal state Massachusetts, Magner argued that she uses medical cannabis for an undisclosed condition, with physician-recommended certification.
Connecticut does not prohibit the use of medical marijuana, and state law also prohibits public and private schools from discriminating against patients. In Magner’s case, apparently, it was only after a prolonged period of resistance by school officials that the parties arrived at a legal settlement.
In Florida, another nursing student Kaitlin McKeon filed suit against Nova Southeastern University after the school threatened her with expulsion, when she failed a drug test. McKeon said that when she enrolled in courses school officials told her that medical cannabis use would not be an issue. Like Magner, she also had a state certification to use medical cannabis, which is legal in Florida. The case is ongoing.
Decisions in the Assar and McKeon cases would potentially set precedent for the legal rights of medical cannabis patients. Experts pointed out that court cases like these would inevitably increase as more U.S. states allow medical cannabis use, while federal policy remains at a standstill.
Universities and colleges, in the meantime, are left with a legal dilemma between patients’ rights, outdated cannabis regulations, and inadequate public health policies.
“Universities can effectively decriminalize it, de-punish it, and make it not something they focus on,” Marijuana Policy Project Campaigns Coordinator Jared Moffat suggested to AP.