More than 200,000 people in California have medical marijuana cards and that number includes some students living in University Housing.
Medical marijuana has been a hotly-debated topic between the California and federal government since the inception of Proposition 215 in 1996, which legalized marijuana for medical recommendations in California.
California universities have had to deal with the conflict between campus codes and state law, especially for students living on campus.
It is against University Housing policy to smoke, be in possession of marijuana or have marijuana smoking paraphernalia; however, students with medical cards complicate those rules. Technically, the students have a right to have medicine recommended by their doctors.
For instance, if the University Police Department (UPD) catches a student with a medical card and in possession of marijuana they cannot cite them by state law. Officers must follow state law before federal law. By federal law, marijuana use, even for medical purposes, is illegal.
“We’re not going to cite (students) if they have a medical marijuana card,” UPD Commander Lori Hashim said.
A criminal defense lawyer in the San Luis Obispo area agreed. “As far as I know, (police) are honoring medical marijuana cards,” Bill McLennan said.
University Housing is an entity independent of Cal Poly and has its own set of rules, further complicating the matter. As of now, University Housing does not have a specific policy towards medical marijuana use but takes each incident on a case-by-case basis. “You get into a situation there where this entity is trying to prescribe punishment for something that is legal,” McLennan said.
One of these cases involved CJ Michaels (not his real name), then a freshman living at Sierra Madre. Michaels was in a friend’s room on the third floor of the Sierra Madre residence halls when resident advisers (RAs) knocked on the door, he said. The RAs said that it smelled like marijuana in the room and to set any paraphernalia on the floor in the middle of the room and that they had called the UPD, he said. Michaels said that he cooperated.
“When [UPD] saw that I had a medical marijuana card they said, ‘C’mon keep it out of the dorms,’” Michaels said.
Michaels talked to housing adviser, who said that because he had a medical marijuana card, he would get to remain in the dorm. A week later, Michaels received a call from saying he was to be kicked out of housing.
Michaels appealed. He wrote essays, had friends write recommendation letters, “did hundreds of hours of research” and had his parents come down for a meeting with John Wood, the community standards program coordinator for residential life and education, Michaels said.
As a result of his efforts, Michaels was moved to the North Mountain residence halls.
“I’m one of two or three kids that haven’t been kicked out fully, upright,” he said.
Although he was allowed to stay in on-campus housing, there were stipulations.
“I wasn’t allowed to return to Sierra Madre for the rest of the year or go anywhere in the area, the volleyball courts, nothing, which really sucked because I had just made a bunch of friends,” Michaels said.
University Housing said that they scrutinize each medical marijuana cases individually.
“We do practice due process. We talk to the student and get their side of the story and make sure that they are aware of all policy,” Preston Allen, executive director of University Housing, said. “It helps us understand where we have mis-communicated with you about what you were doing.”
Housing is taking its time making across-the-board decisions about medical marijuana.
“We do accept all treating physicians requests, but we cannot supersede the law,” Allen said. “There’s still some time that needs to pass before [medical marijuana] becomes more recognized and accepted.”
Unlike Cal Poly, University of California (UC) Berkeley and UC Davis would not kick a student out of housing if they had a medical marijuana card and were smoking on campus somewhere 25 feet away from the residence halls. Cal Poly requires students to be 20 feet away from buildings when smoking tobacco
“Just because they’re a student, if they violate policy outside of our buildings it wouldn’t impact their housing contract,” Emily Galindo, director of Student Housing at UC Davis said. “If they get suspended from school or can’t go to classes in another situation, it by default, would affect their housing.”
The UC system is also having an evolving discussion, according to representatives from the UC system.
“We do reasonable accommodation on what happens on a case by case basis,” Martin Takimoto, director of marketing for residential and student services at UC Berkeley, said.
The debate over medical marijuana in the CSU and UC systems will continue as more cases arise, Takimoto said.