Recreational marijuana will be legal in Massachusetts starting Dec. 15, although the future of the drug on Harvard’s campus is uncertain as the University remains mum on changes to its drug and alcohol policy.
University spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke declined to comment on whether or not Harvard would alter its drug and alcohol policy, despite the fast-approaching legalization. Steven G. Catalano, the spokesperson for the Harvard University Police Department, did not respond to requests for comment on changes to the policy.
Massachusetts voters legalized recreational marijuana by ballot measure on Nov. 8.
Harvard’s current drug and alcohol policy bans the possession and distribution of marijuana by all students on campus. In addition, smoking is banned in Harvard Yard, many public campus spaces, and in all University buildings.
Director of Harvard University Health Services Paul J. Barreira said he was unaware of any potential changes in the University’s drug and alcohol policy but emphasized that HUHS does not play a role in determining the legality of substances on campus.
“The Health Services won’t have any role in deciding on the [marijuana] policy and the primary reason is that this is a legal issue about what a state has said is ‘legal’ and what the federal government continues to say is ‘illegal’,” Barreira said.
As a private institution, the federal government provides Harvard with millions of dollars each year for research. Given that criminalized marijuana is a federal statute, the Bay State’s legalization of cannabis puts Harvard in the middle of a nationwide debate on state versus federal law.
“What I’m reading is that most universities are feeling that even if they reside in a state where they’ve legalized it, that because they get federal money—substantial amounts of federal money for research—that they’re not going to allow the use of marijuana in public places like houses and dorms,” Barreira said.
Nearby private universities, including Northeastern University, stated before the Nov. 8 vote that campus bans on marijuana would remain in effect on their campus regardless of the referendum outcome.
Once the law takes effect on Thursday, Massachusetts residents 21 and older will be legally allowed to possess marijuana. Individuals will also be able to legally possess up to 12 cannabis plants in their home. According to the law, people can legally sell marijuana paraphernalia starting Thursday, but retail stores cannot sell the drug itself until January 2017.
The drug will be subject to a state sales tax of 6.25 percent as well as a special 3.75 percent excise tax specifically for marijuana. Municipalities have the option to add an additional two-percent tax for a total of 12 percent.
At the final tally, 53.6 percent of Massachusetts voters approved the ballot question, with 46.4 percent in opposition. Cambridge, which voted yes by a significantly larger margin, was 71.3 percent in favor.
The future of legalized marijuana in Massachusetts and nationwide also remains in limbo as President-elect Donald Trump transitions into the White House. The Trump administration has the power to enforce federal laws on marijuana, something President Barack Obama’s administration has effectively left to the states. Such a federal action would likely supersede state legalization efforts.
—Staff writer Kenton Shimozaki contributed to reporting on this story.
—Staff writer Joshua J. Florence can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1.