After Massachusetts residents voted in favor of legalizing the use of medical marijuana on Tuesday, the jury is still out about whether the new legislation means that the University will allow the use of the substance on campus once the law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2013.
According to University administrators, discussions have not yet decided whether Harvard may also consider allowing University Health Services to prescribe medical marijuana, granting doctors the ability to authorize the medical use of the substance by students.
According to the website of William F. Galvin, secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the new law will allow qualifying patients—those who are diagnosed with debilitating conditions such as cancer and HIV/AIDS—to possess as much as a 60-day supply of marijuana for personal medical use.
However, because marijuana is still an illegal drug on the federal level, the decision to allow student use of the substance on campus could potentially violate a number of federal regulations including the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act and the Drug-Free Workplace Act.
The school could potentially risk losing its federal funding if it were to honor these prescriptions. This would suspend federal aid from the hundreds of Harvard students who typically receive it every year.
According to the Harvard Office of Federal Relations, the federal government provided Harvard College more than $17 million of the total $180 million allotted for financial aid, in the 2010 school year.
Many states that allow the general use of medical marijuana have restricted use of the substance on their college campuses.
In Arizona, where the use of medical marijuana was legalized in 2010, the use of the substance on college campuses was banned earlier this year, regardless of whether a student had a prescription.
Similarly, university officials in Colorado and Washington, where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use, have prohibited its use on their campuses.
The University does not anticipate taking immediate action regarding medical marijuana use on campus.
Paul J. Barreira, director of HUHS, wrote in an email, “The law to legalize the use of medical marijuana was just passed this week, so it will take time for the governing bodies to determine the policies around this new law.
"HUHS will not make any decisions or changes until the policies have been outlined, and we are able to do an internal review assessing our patient population and the need for this treatment.”