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Hot on Campus | December 5, 2012

Still illegal to smoke pot on campus

Hot on Campus

Marijuana may be legal in every other part of Washington and Colorado, but it's still taboo at college

In this photo taken Oct. 23, 2012, University of Washington students walk on the campus between classes in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Young voters propelled the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, but since many of them attend federally funded universities, they won't be able to light up as easily as they might have hoped.

The Drug Free Schools and Communities Act requires that any university receiving federal funds adopt a drug-prevention program for both students and employees. Students found in possession of cannabis on campus can face severe penalties, up to expulsion.

The federal law trumps the new state law, said Gary Gasseling, deputy chief of the Eastern Washington University police department: "The drug-free environment is going to remain in place."

Derrick Skaug, student body vice president at Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman, said while he believes most students will understand they cannot consume marijuana on campus, others might feel they should be allowed to, since it is legal everywhere else.

"It may be something worth starting a discussion on," he said. "…there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed."

For the time being, campus policy won't change, said WSU Spokesperson Darin Watkins. As it is, administrators have been fighting illegal drug possession on campus for years, an epidemic that WSU senior Anna Marum expects to continue.

"It's ironic that all 21-year-olds in Washington can smoke marijuana except for college students," she said. But she also pointed out that cannabis already has a presence on campus. Many WSU students who have medical marijuana cards are allowed by their residence hall advisers to consume marijuana brownies, even though the drug is banned on campus. Others smoke in dorms anyway, she said, a trend that she thinks will increase with legalization.

Even though campus police will be on guard against pot on campus, off-campus police departments say they will no longer arrest or ticket students who legally use marijuana off-campus. In Boulder and Seattle, prosecutors have said they will not prosecute criminal marijuana cases for less than an ounce for people age 21 and over. Marijuana use will only be a campus policy problem, not a criminal matter.

The new state laws and possible tension between campus rules and off-campus laxity could climax with students and voters challenging marijuana laws on a federal level. So far the Department of Justice hasn't commented on how it would respond to a challenge of that sort.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.