Pot use will still be restricted on campus after statewide legalization

Despite marijuana’s legalization in Illinois at the start of 2020, the status of cannabis use on campus is still up in the air.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill June 25 which set the date for legalization and other standards for growth, sale, taxation and advertising.

According to a summary of the new laws, adults over the age of 21 will be able to purchase and consume marijuana legally, starting Jan. 1 2020. Illinois residents will be allowed up to 30 grams of marijuana per person at any time, and non-residents will be allowed 15 grams of pot. The summary was created by the Illinois State Police and provided to The Alestle by Vice Chancellor for Administration Rich Walker.

The university has not yet outlined their policy going forward, but a task force will be meeting Sept. 24 to discuss what the official stance on pot use on campus will be. 

While it will be legal in the state, Kara Shustrin, associate dean of students and director of student conduct, said some of SIUE’s funding, including financial aid like Pell Grants and federal loans, restrict the university’s options to allow cannabis use on campus.

“As a recipient of federal funds, we are required by federal law to adhere to the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, and that trumps state law in this case,” Shustrin said.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug — the most restricted category —  alongside the likes of heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

Shustrin said they have looked at policies from universities in other states that have legalized recreational marijuana, such as Colorado and California, to help decide what SIUE’s marijuana policy might look like.

“We have reached out to our colleagues in those states, and the answer is pretty much universal: because, as public institutions, we receive federal funds, and we have to adhere to that Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act,” Shustrin said. “Even in Colorado, if you go to a public institution in the state of Colorado, you’re still not permitted to use, possess, whatever, on a college campus.”

However, just because something is against university policy doesn’t make it illegal. 

SIUE Police Chief Kevin Schmoll said SIUE PD will probably treat people smoking cannabis on campus similarly to how they handle people smoking tobacco on campus now. Currently, there is a state statute which says no one can smoke at a school or university, except in their own private vehicle.

That smoking statute applies to all sorts of smoking, including vaping of tobacco or marijuana products. According to Schmoll, violations of the statute are usually handled in-house, and he said he assumes violations of cannabis use on campus will most likely be handled the same way.

“There’s nothing criminal about [smoking tobacco on campus],” Schmoll said. “What we would do about that — if you’re a student, we’d go through Student Affairs; if you’re in Housing, go through Housing for internal discipline; if you’re an employee, we would document it and turn it over to Human Resources; and if you’re a visitor, we would educate you and tell you you can’t do that.”

Shustrin likened the split between university police’s policy and the potential Student Conduct Code policy to alcohol use on campus, which is currently allowed on campus in a student’s residence if the student is 21.

“If we have a student who’s walking around with an open container of alcohol in Cougar Village, and that person’s over 21, the police may approach them and take that alcohol because they’re not permitted to have it outside, in an open container, all that good stuff,” Shustrin said. “They’re not gonna face any criminal charges necessarily, but they are going to be held accountable through the student code of conduct.”

Even though Schmoll said a student should be able to smoke in their car, running that car while they’re high or smoking could potentially result in a DUI.

“As long as you’ve got the keys in the ignition, you’re in control of that vehicle, especially if it’s running,” Schmoll said. “That could be considered driving under the influence, even if you’re not driving but you have the car on.”

Illinois drivers are legally allowed to drive with alcohol in their system — as long as their blood alcohol content is less than 0.08 percent. However, according to Schmoll, any amount of THC in a driver’s blood could cause them to receive a DUI.

Regardless of whether students are allowed to use cannabis openly on campus, Sam Stoeckl, a junior geography major from St. Louis, doesn’t expect to see an increase in pot smoking on campus.

“Even in a lot of the other places I’ve been where it’s legal, a lot of times, I think after having prohibition last so long, I doubt that those behaviors are going to change overnight. But, I don’t know, they could,” Stoeckl said. 

While Shustrin doesn’t expect the university to allow marijuana on campus, she says that doesn’t mean the administration will just be ignoring the new laws.

“We want to make sure we are, first of all, educating students. Our view is ‘OK, we understand legalization has its positives and negatives,’” Shustrin said. “We want to make sure students are making informed decisions about use. But also, we want to make sure they are adhering to university policy as well as the law so that they don’t encounter any issues.”

As a part of that, Shustrin said the university is planning on running awareness campaigns in the future.

“We want to make sure that everybody’s aware that come January 1 it’s not going to be party time,” Shustrin said. “We want to make sure that they’re safe and not intentionally violating any university policies or laws.”

The Alestle will continue to update readers as more information about marijuana use on campus becomes available. 

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