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Debate over Mills’ medical marijuana use unresolved

While Oakland has become a hub for California’s medical marijuana movement in recent years, Mills has only just begun facilitating its use on campus.

The Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana established the nations first legal medical marijuana plant, lovingly named ‘Victoria,’ in Santa Cruz in 2009 after Bill 390 passed. Source: Wikimedia commons

The College implemented its first medical marijuana policy last year, which prohibited smoking marijuana on campus and made edibles, or cooking and eating marijuana in food, the only form of usage allowed. But the debate between medical marijuana cardholders who want to smoke on campus and the rules of the institution is ongoing.

“[The policy] is about balancing the needs of the community,” said Angela Batista, associate dean of community life. “Everyone has a right not to be affected by other’s decisions.”

As it stands now, residential students with medical marijuana prescriptions are required to register with the office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) before moving onto campus. But in accordance with state laws that prohibit any drug use in schools, smoking it on campus is illegal even for registered students. If a residential student is caught smoking, the consequences may vary, but Batista said the punishments are not severe.

“This is not a punitive system,” Batista said, “it’s educational. Each incident is looked at case by case.”

Examples of some of the educational consequences include writing a reflective paper about the incident or designing an informative poster about medical marijuana to post somewhere on campus.

In the midst of this debate, some cardholding students feel that the policy is not taking their needs into consideration.

“[The policy] is frustrating because the school caters to so many other things on campus like dogs and cigarette smokers,” said O, a cardholding student who asked that her last name not be included in this article. “But when it comes to taking our medication, there are all these restrictions.”

Another cardholding student, who wished to remain nameless, felt similarly.

“Mills has all these resources but isn’t providing us with what we need,” she said.

The anonymous student is a residential student who has been issued several warnings by Public Safety for the use of her medication. The smell of marijuana, she said, is enough reason for a student to report another student to public safety, and is probable cause for public safety to search a dorm room for marijuana, or at least come knocking on the door asking to see a prescription card. But, she said, smelling of marijuana doesn’t necessarily mean that someone has been smoking inside. It can stick with a person long after they have smoked.

“It’s frustrating because I have to ‘prove my innocence’ every time something like this happens,” she said.

Her most recent run-in with public safety was a few weeks ago when a student saw her rolling a joint, or marijuana cigarette, to smoke off campus, and reported her. She showed her card to public safety when they came to her door and resolved the situation, but she still felt “villainized.”

“This is supposed to be about creating a safe space to have medication and Mills isn’t providing that,” she said.

The rules for nonresidential students with medical marijuana prescriptions are not so clearly defined. The student handbook only includes residential students in the policy, and, according to Batista, commuter students are not required to register with SSD. Unlike their residential peers, if a commuter student is caught smoking on campus it could be considered misconduct, which would affect them academically.

But, like residential students, ingesting marijuana through edibles is allowed.

O, who is a commuter student, uses medical marijuana to treat chronic pain and expressed dissatisfaction with the idea of using edibles to treat her pain.

“Eating and inhaling are two completely different things,” she said.

For one, she said, it takes much longer for the effects of marijuana to kick in when you ingest it, and it is harder to gage how much of the substance you are taking in. Being allowed to smoke medical marijuana on campus would help her treat the pain.

“There is not a moment of my day that I am not in pain,” O said. “It is just how well I am dealing with it. I don’t always know when I am going to have use my medication.”

Both O and the anonymous student felt that the solution to the problem was for Mills to create a designated smoking area for medical marijuana cardholders.

According to Batista, that would not be so simple. The challenges with creating a designated area are both logistical and monetary,
she said.

“How do we pay for it? Is it an open or closed space? How do we regulate who enters the space?” she asked hypothetically. “All of this isn’t just up to one person, either. It has to happen at an institutional level.”

The Associated Students of Mills College (ASMC) is currently in the process of implementing a smoke-reduction policy on campus, which would include campus-wide designated smoking areas and a fine for breaking the smoking rules. Though the ASMC board has voted to pass the policy, it still needs to be voted in at the institutional level. ASMC Vice President Rebecca Freeman said that though the wording of the proposed policy does not specify what falls under ‘smoking,’ she didn’t see why it wouldn’t include marijuana. But both she and Batista said this prospect has not yet entered the discussion.

“The conversation around medical marijuana is fairly new,” Batista said. “We are working hard to create a space where student suggestions are taken up with the institution, but we have a lot to overcome.”