A bill to ban medical marijuana on college campuses is on Gov. Jan Brewer's desk, and university officials say they favor her signing it.
The bill passed both houses of the Legislature by wide margins -- just two "no" votes in each chamber -- after officials from all three state universities and several community colleges said they favor the ban.
Without it, the universities and colleges could jeopardize losing federal funding under two laws, the Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988 and the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act of 1989.
The laws prohibit drug use on campus in order for an institution to receive federal funds, including any kind of financial assistance — that’s scholarships, research funding and student-aid Pell Grants.
Arizona voters approved marijuana for medical use in 2010, and the state is getting closer to allowing businesses to dispense the drug after refraining from licensing dispensaries because of a court fight.
Tim Bee, a former legislator who now works for the University of Arizona as a lobbyist, says the bill before Brewer is important to the livelihood of the UA and its students.
“So the University of Arizona had planned to follow the federal law regardless, but the state law actually provides more clarification to the citizens of the state so there’s no confusion," Bee says. "Now everybody will know that we’re not allowed to have it on our campuses.”
A proponent of medical marijuana, Joe Yuhas with the Arizona Medical Marijuana Association, didn’t respond to a request for comment. Yuhas has previously said the question of federal funding has not been an issue in other states that have approved medical marijuana programs.
“This is an infringement on patient rights," Yuhas said in an earlier interview with Arizona Public Media. "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." In related news, officials with the state Department of Health Services are preparing to accept applications for medical marijuana dispensaries. Until now, the state has been certifying patients to use medical marijuana.
Will Humble, the state health director, says about 25,000 certification cards have been issued in the year since the program has been active.
“It’s really spread all across the whole state," Humble says. "In the Tucson area, I think we have a higher density, surprisingly, of the medical marijuana cards on the east side. Everyone sort of intuitively expected there’d be more cards sort of around the university area, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.”
If there is more than one dispensary applicant in each of the so-called community health areas, Humble says the department will do a random drawing to figure out which of the applicants gets a license. He expects that to happen in July, with the first dispensaries opening as soon as August, more than a year after the voter-approved medical marijuana law went into effect.