Emerson ought to smoke out the competition

by Casey Dalager / Beacon Correspondent • October 1, 2014

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Emerson College should revise its alcohol and other drugs policy to better accommodate students who need medical marijuana.
Emerson College should revise its alcohol and other drugs policy to better accommodate students who need medical marijuana.

With the recent legalization of marijuana in of Washington and Colorado, and the decriminalization of the drug in several other states, it’s clear the general opinion on the substance is shifting. There have been calls for similar legislation to be introduced in other states, including Massachusetts.

But despite Emerson College’s location in the heart of left-leaning Boston, the college has maintained a draconian viewpoint regarding any use of marijuana, legal or otherwise. As a liberal institution in such a liberal city, Emerson should revise its drug and alcohol policy to accommodate the health needs of students who have been issued medical marijuana cards, and push Massachusetts to legalize and regulate the drug.

Having already decriminalized cannabis, the Commonwealth passed a bill last November allowing the drug’s use for prescribed medical purposes. Because of these changes, people who want to use it are free to do so without any major legal repercussions. Still, Emerson refuses to recognize the validity of the state-issued medical marijuana cards, and makes no distinction between smoking for medical purposes and smoking to get high. To complicate things further, the current state laws decree that the drug can only be used medicinally within a private residence. Even if one of the near-2,000 students who live on campus were to be prescribed medical marijuana, he or she would have no place to use it legally.

There’s no doubt that marijuana has legitimate medical benefits. The Commonwealth’s Medical Use of Marijuana Program has officially recognized cannabis as a valid treatment for multiple debilitating ailments, including cancer, glaucoma, and AIDS—and it has been shown to alleviate pain. Despite these conclusions, students living on campus are effectively denied this treatment method.

Emerson should be an institutional leader, accepting the medical marijuana cards of its students, not rejecting social progress. Instead, students have been forced to move off-campus to be able to simply take their medication, as the Beacon reported in April. Sometimes—as in the case of some students interviewed by the Beacon—they are still paying for their rooms on campus as well. This has resulted in an unfair financial burden on students whose only offense was choosing which medication best suited their lifestyle and needs.

But recognizing its students’ cards isn’t enough. A college with our influence should be lobbying for full legalization of marijuana by the state. It is incumbent upon both our community and our administration to push for the rights that we deserve. Colleges like Emerson must begin educating the public about how marijuana is a substance with fewer negative side effects than tobacco and other drugs.

Legalization of marijuana has worked, no disclaimer needed. Colorado and Washington have been able to introduce full legalization without any major incidents, and have even made a profit. Money that is currently going to criminals would instead go towards legitimate businesses that pay taxes to the American government. There is no reason that full legalization could not work in states like Massachusetts. According to the United States Census Bureau, Boston has close to the same population as Denver, with only 2,000 more residents. Boston even has a lower overall crime rate than the Mile High City. If legal marijuana can be successfully regulated and controlled in Denver, then legalization can be implemented in Boston with its larger police force.

Emerson’s drug policy is severely outdated and revisions are necessary. As more states and communities look at legalizing medical marijuana, colleges—including ours—must reevaluate their drug law standards as well. With the cultural acceptance of the drug shifting in its favor, colleges and universities should champion new standards. Now, Emerson has a meaningful opportunity to be at forefront.