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Monday, Feb 26, 2024

Marijuana Policy Unchanged Despite New Vermont Law

Middlebury will continue to prohibit marijuana use and possession on campus despite Vermont’s legalization of the drug on Jan. 22. Hannah Ross, the college’s general counsel, sent a school-wide email reiterating the policy three days after Gov. Phil Scott signed H. 511 into law.

Ross cited the risk of losing federal funding and a concern for student health as motivation to uphold the current policy in her email.

“Middlebury is at risk of losing federal dollars, including Title IV financial aid funds for students, if we allow cannabis on campus,” Ross wrote. “We also are cognizant of the research done at UVM and elsewhere which indicates that even recreational use of cannabis has significant negative impacts on knowledge retention and brain development of individuals under the age of 29.”

Vermont is the latest state to legalize marijuana, and the first to do so by legislature rather than by voter referendum. Recreational use is already legal in Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia. Colleges in these states have also left policies that prohibit marijuana unchanged so as to abide by federal law.

On Jan. 22, the day Scott signed the legislation, students at the University of Vermont received an email from Wendy Koenig, the university’s director of federal and state relations, announcing that the university’s policy prohibiting marijuana would remain in effect. Bowdoin, Colby and Bates Colleges in Maine, as well as Williams, Amherst and Tufts in Massachusetts, have retained their marijuana prohibition policies in order to remain in compliance with federal law.

But a Feb. 8 article in The Williams Record reported that though the college’s policy prohibiting marijuana was still in effect, “the College will no longer contact the Williamstown Police Department (WPD) for all marijuana-related incidents, as was necessary when marijuana was illegal in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” Williams’ campus safety staff will continue to respond to reports of marijuana use, and any case of use by a student will still be disciplined by the college’s dean.

Lisa Burchard, the director of public safety, did not respond to a request for comment when asked whether the college’s Public Safety staff is considering any changes to their handling of student violations of the marijuana prohibition policy.

Students think the legalization will have a minimal effect on student life given the college’s policy.

“I don’t think the legalization will have much of a noticed effect on social life at Middlebury,” said one student, who requested anonymity. “Since Middlebury is upholding its previous rules, obviously people won’t be smoking overtly or more excessively on campus, but those who smoke frequently are likely to still do so, and same with those who smoke casually. I think it’s still pretty easy to ‘get away with’ smoking on campus, given how spread out our campus is, and the ability to conceal smoking better with products such as vaporizers.”

“I think if it were to become allowed on campus there would definitely be a slight increase in its consumption, but people who are already smoking weed won’t really be affected I guess,” said another student, who also requested anonymity.

The student is optimistic that Vermont residents may be able to acquire safer marijuana from retailers in the future.

“It’s definitely safer to come from a store than a dealer, and more tax revenue for both Middlebury and Vermont is great,” the student said.

The college handbook says students and employees are expected to abide by federal law. As long as marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the handbook’s provision prohibiting the use and possession of illicit drugs on property owned or leased by Middlebury will continue to apply to marijuana.

The college must also abide by federal regulations that require colleges to implement a program to prevent the possession, use and distribution of illegal drugs in order to receive funding from the federal government. According to Kim Downs-Burns, a vice president for financial services, Middlebury received $22,946,484 of federal funding for financial aid in the 2017 fiscal year.

Although the risk of losing federal funding appears to be a universal concern amongst colleges, one Colorado county has found a way to use marijuana’s legal status to fund scholarships for college students. In 2015, a ballot initiative in Pueblo County established a scholarship program funded by at least 50 percent of the proceeds from the marijuana excise tax. The excise tax levies a tax on all marijuana grown in the county when marijuana is first sold from a grower to a retailer.

While the amount raised for the fund remains significantly less than the federal financial aid funding Middlebury received last year, the Colorado program’s funding has increased since last year, its first full year in operation. According to a Feb. 5 Denver Channel article, the fund has accumulated almost $700,000 dollars this year from the marijuana tax to distribute to students in Pueblo County for the 2018–2019 academic year.

Last year, the tax provided $475,000 in scholarships to students there.