A bill that would prevent people from carrying marijuana onto educational campuses passed the Arizona House of Representatives higher education committee today.
House Bill 2349 would make it illegal to bring marijuana on campus, even for those who have state approval to use the drug for medical purposes. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Amanda Reeve, says it’s directly in response to the state’s medical marijuana law.
"We wanted to make sure that it was clear ... that marijuana is not allowed on the campuses, including medical marijuana," to keep schools in compliance with federal law, which still classifies marijuana as an illegal drug.
Reeve says she wants to make sure students can’t have marijuana on preschool, kindergarten through 12th, or university campuses.
"It’s a good measure--we’re protecting our universities, our students, the financial aid and assistance, so that’s the purpose behind this bill," she says.
Two people spoke in support of the bill, including Kristen Boilini, a lobbyist for Cochise Community College and Northland Pioneer Community College. The bill is consistent with college policies already in place, she says.
“In order for our students to be able to qualify for federal student loans, which allow them to access higher ed, we need to be drug-free campuses. So this is consistent with the policies we have and we believe it strengthens the legal ability for us to have those policies, so we appreciate the bill and are very supportive," Boilini says.
The Arizona Medical Marijuana Association is opposed to the bill. The federal funding question mentioned in the hearing has not been an issue for colleges and universities in other states with medical marijuana programs, says Joe Yuhas, a representative of the association.
“We’re not encouraging that dispensaries be established on college campuses. There will be opportunities to meet patient needs in other ways. This isn’t about opening up college campuses to a drug culture. This is about denying patients their rights under the citizen-approved initiative to utilize medical marijuana as recommended by their doctors," he says.
He's concerned the proposal violates what voters wanted, and it’s likely the issue will go to court if it’s eventually passed into law.
“This is an infringement on patient rights. College students, college employees, should have the same right to access medical marijuana as they do any other drug that is recommended or prescribed by their doctor. We think this is frankly a violation of the citizen-approved initiative. If it finds its way through the legislature and is signed by the governor, I’m almost sure that it will be litigated," Yuhas says.
The Arizona Medical Marijuana Association didn’t send anyone to the hearing to speak in opposition to the bill, because Yuhas says he thinks attempts to sway the legislators on this issue are unlikely to change votes. Representative Ted Vogt, a Republican, says he supports the bill but may want to limit the scope of the bill to just public institutions.
“Here we find ourselves in a very interesting conundrum, where something is now legal in the state, and illegal federally, what are we to do? And I think we’ve got to let private institutions make their decisions as they feel is appropriate," Vogt says.
The bill passed the house higher education committee unanimously, with two members absent. The next step for the bill is a hearing in the house education committee. Lawmakers on that committee consider bills for students in high school and lower grades.