Bridgewater State Stonehill and Massasoit, like all state college, continue to prohibit pot on campus.
BROCKTON — Promptly after the 2016 vote that legalized recreational marijuana in Massachusetts, Stonehill College student Ian Vescera remembers getting an email from the school.
It reminded students that, despite the passage of Question 4, marijuana was banned on school grounds. The school accepted federal funding, Vescera remembers reading, and marijuana was still illegal in the eyes of the federal government.
Stonehill students, still buzzing from news of legalization, were “pretty bummed out,” said Vescera, who does not consume pot himself.
Two years later, as the first recreational marijuana shops in Massachusetts opened their doors last week, bans on marijuana persist on college campus throughout the Bay State.
Stonehill, Bridgewater State University and Massasoit Community College each prohibit marijuana on college campuses in their student handbooks and codes of conduct, and don’t make any accommodations for recreational marijuana.
Federal law supersedes state law at education institutions, Massasoit indicates in its marijuana policy: “As marijuana remains classified as an illegal narcotic under federal law, institutions of higher education that receive federal funding are required to maintain policies prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana on their campuses.”
That same policy extends to medical marijuana at Bridgewater State, where “no accommodations will be made for any student in possession of a medical marijuana registration card,” with a single exception of allowing students to break their residence contract to move off campus if they have a medical marijuana card.
That statement is echoed at private and public institutions across the state — universities receive millions of dollars students in federal funding which could be at stake because marijuana is still illegal in the eyes of the federal government.
In 2017, about 255,200 college students in Massachusetts received a combined $2.8 billion in federal loans and grants, according to an annual report by the Office of Federal Student Aid, a division of the U.S. Department of Education. The funding totaled more than any other New England state, and the 13th most in the country.
Schools, including Clark University in Worcester, make clear the potential fallout from being convicted of illegal drug use.
“Persons convicted of drug possession under state or federal law are ineligible for federal student grants and loans for up to one year after the first conviction, five years after the second,” according to the Clark website. “The penalty for distributing drugs is loss of benefits for five years after the first, 10 years after the second, permanently after the third conviction.”
The rationale, however, falls short with Jim Borghesani, who worked on the campaign to legalize recreational marijuana. Borghesani said the concerns are unrealistic when it comes to marijuana.
“Campuses have been dealing with cannabis on their campuses for decades,” he said. “I don’t see the feds saying, ‘Somebody has used cannabis in your facility, so we’re not going to give you funding.’”
Borghesani nonetheless doesn’t expect the rules to change any time soon, but says it’s possible schools could one day open marijuana facilities if social consumption is allowed. Social consumption, meaning the legal use of marijuana in public places, is currently prohibited in Massachusetts, although state regulators have considered allowing it.
The idea isn’t so farfetched, he added, taking into consideration how some schools allow on-campus bars. The Thirsty Ear Pub, by example, offers alcoholic beverages at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
“Eventually, you might see the easing of stigma as it relates to having a consumption site for people 21 or older, just like alcohol,” Borghesani said. “But that will be a wait-and-see type of thing.”
Indeed, students like Vescera will have long left school before any such facility is allowed. And despite retail sales of recreational marijuana beginning in November, school policies don’t look different at all.
“I don’t think all that much has changed,” Vescera said. “People are upset and disappointed by it.”
Eli Sherman is an investigative and in-depth reporter at Wicked Local and GateHouse Media. Email him at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @Eli_Sherman.