Students file lawsuits against U.S. colleges that prohibit medical cannabis on-campus

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Heated arguments are erupting between colleges in the United States and their students; medical cannabis patients are not allowed to use their medicine on-campus. This is down to a clash between federal and state cannabis laws. 

Due to outdated campus drug policies, students are faced with restrictions when it comes to using medical cannabis during college hours. Those who have been disciplined as a result of using their prescribed medicine are now taking action by filing lawsuits against their schools.

An argument that college officials favored in opposition of granting students’ access to cannabis is that the plant remains federally illegal and has no accepted use. If they allow it, college officials claim that they might be stripped of their federal funding.

“Universities can effectively decriminalize it, de-punish it and make it not something they focus on,” said campaigns coordinator for the Marijuana Policy Project, Jared Moffat. The MPP is a pro-cannabis group renowned for being the largest organization lobbying for cannabis reform.

Students share their stories about the lack of cannabis on-campus

Drug testing is compulsory for nursing students. Because of this, disputes are arising from students enrolled in various areas of the medical field.

One student who feels let down by the fact that medical cannabis is forbidden on-site is Sheida Assar. The student – who formerly took diagnostic medical sonography classes at GateWay Community College in Phoenix – shared with reporters how she was expelled after she tested positive for cannabis consumption. 

Assar says that she relies on plant-based medicines to relieve chronic pain caused by polycystic ovary syndrome. However, the school didn’t see things from her point of view and expelled her for breaching the school’s drug policy. She was under the impression that the medicine would be permitted if she showed her medical cannabis card, but this turned out not to be the case.

“They yanked me out of class in the middle of the school day,” said 31-year-old Assar, who comes from Chandler, Arizona. “They escorted me to the administration like I was a … criminal. It’s discrimination, and it also violates my rights under the Arizona medical [cannabis] law.”

Assar is hoping to claim back tuition money to the amount of $2,000, as well as damages and other educational expenses. GateWay has already been contacted by her lawyer, according to reports.

Christine Lambrakis – a spokeswoman for the school – says she is unable to confirm whether or not Assar studies at GateWay. Lambrakis affirmed that the school is continuously prohibiting cannabis consumption on-campus.

Another nursing student from Connecticut named Kathryn Magner filed a lawsuit against Sacred Heart University in Connecticut in September, after the school banned her for a positive cannabis test reading. Based on the details of Magner’s lawsuit, she was forbidden from attending necessary clinical medical rounds. The legal documents filed by Magner did not reveal her medical reason(s) for using the plant, which she claims that she started consuming legally in Massachusetts – her home state – during the summer.

The judge ordered that the 22-year-old be granted reentry into the medical rounds, due to the fact that medical cannabis is allowed in Connecticut; state law prevents colleges from discriminating against consumers. Although the fine details of the lawsuit were not disclosed, it was settled successfully between both parties.

Prior to the settlement, Magner passed a cannabis drug screening test and gained the required approval to use the plant. However, officials working at Fairfield School’s Office of Student Accessibility rejected her plea to medicate with weed on school grounds.

“Many schools disability services offices are not universally listened to by the university,” said Magner’s lawyer, Michael Thad Allen. “It just shows that these kinds of issues will become more common if employers and schools don’t abide by the law.”

Students attending Sacred Heart are obligated to “obey the law at all times.” Nonetheless, school officials released a statement confirming that they would start treating medical cannabis patients with the same treatment that disabled individuals receive. The school “seeks to provide reasonable accommodation under the law,” according to the statement.

Over in Florida, a Naples resident called Kaitlin McKeon has filed a lawsuit against Nova Southeastern University. School officials expelled McKeon from a Fort Myers-based nursing program that she was enrolled in, following a positive test result for cannabis use.

McKeon claims that she had been informed there wouldn’t be a problem with her using her medicine during school time. However, just like the other plaintiffs who filed lawsuits against schools regarding cannabis consumption on campus, McKeon was told she had violated the school’s drug policy.

“It’s really sad that Nova Southeastern took this stance on this issue and is really preventing a really good, caring person from entering the nursing field and living out her dream because she chose a medication that’s legal in Florida but not one that they recognize,” said McKeon’s lawyer, Michael Minardi. 

Pending litigation has not been commented on by Nova Southeastern officials.

Schools stubborn to change their rules for on-campus cannabis consumption 

So far, 33 states and Washington D.C. have allowed medical cannabis, with a further 11 having legalized the plant for recreational purposes. Due to an increase in the number of lawsuits filed against schools that disallow medical cannabis on-campus, many schools are beginning to review their policies and consider a change.

Patients aged 18 and above can legally use medical cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation, as per the law in states that have legalized for medical use. With many students enrolled at this age, there is clear need for a policy change.

Growing legalization and acceptance of the drug has forced schools into tricky territory with students who rely on the plant’s therapeutic and medicinal properties. So far, there have been no victorious legal challenges to overturn existing laws regarding cannabis consumption on-campus.

However, with federal legalization on the horizon, it is just a matter of time before school officials must start allowing students to use medical cannabis during school hours.