Harvard students excited for the possibility of legalized marijuana in Massachusetts may find it sobering that, if Harvard follows the paths of other universities, the drug will likely remain banned on campus even if Massachusetts Ballot Question 4 passes.
Question 4 would legalize recreational use of marijuana in Massachusetts for people age 21 and older. Four other states are considering similar measures this election cycle.
Central to the debate over whether Harvard, and any college in Massachusetts, would permit marijuana use on campus is its relationship with the federal government. A private institution, Harvard receives millions of dollars from the federal government each year for research. The receipt of federal funding is contingent upon colleges and universities’ adherence to federal statutes, including the criminalization of marijuana.
Legalizing marijuana on a campus that receives federal funds could potentially jeopardize those funds, according to Harvard Law School professor Charles R. Nesson. Nesson recently lectured at the Harvard Ed Portal in Allston on Question 4.
“The operative question I think is whether this acts as an in terrorem effect,” Nesson said, referring to Harvard’s federal funding as a deterrent to permitting cannabis. “I just can’t imagine Harvard taking any step but the most conservative one: go the slowest, stay the closest to the ground.”
Harvard spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke declined to comment on the status of marijuana on campus should the ballot question pass. She also noted that Harvard does not take positions on any ballot questions. The possession or distribution of marijuana on campus is currently a violation of Harvard’s drug and alcohol policy.
Harvard students intending to vote in Massachusetts overwhelmingly support the ballot measure, according to data from by The Crimson’s election survey, a voluntary questionnaire filled out by more than 2,000 undergraduates. Sixty-seven percent of Mass. voters at Harvard are planning to vote “Yes” on the ballot question, while 16 percent intend to vote “No.” About 17 percent of respondents remain undecided. The Crimson Editorial Board also encouraged readers to vote “Yes” on Question 4 a few weeks ago.
While Harvard has not made any public statements regarding policy changes after the vote, other private colleges in the area, like Boston University, do not intend to alter drug policies in the event of a yes vote.
“We do not anticipate any policy change, no matter the outcome on Question 4,” Colin Riley, executive director of media relations at Boston University, said.
Universities in states like Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, have banned the substance on campus despite its legality. At the University of Colorado, Boulder, marijuana is banned on campus, even for students over the legal age of 21.
“In addition, the state constitutional amendment authorizing individuals over the age of 21 to recreationally use marijuana (‘Amendment 64’) does not change this prohibition or authorize a student to use marijuana,” the UC Boulder student handbook reads. “Federal law, including the Drug Free Schools Act, continues to prohibit marijuana. Thus marijuana use, even if in compliance with Amendment 64, is prohibited on campus.”
While the Question 4 has not generated as much publicity or controversy as the charter school-centered Question 2, recent opposition from the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston—in the form of a $850,000 donation to the opposition campaign—has brought the legalization of marijuana to the forefront of election discussion in Massachusetts.
The measure is another step in a near decade-long process of loosening restrictions on marijuana in the Bay State. Massachusetts decriminalized marijuana under one ounce in 2008 and legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 2012, both by ballot measure. More recently, the City of Cambridge amended its medical marijuana ordinances to allow a local marijuana dispensary on Mass. Ave. Should Question 4 pass, Massachusetts would become the fourth state to legalize recreational marijuana.
—Staff writer Joshua J. Florence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1.
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