As marijuana becomes more easily accessible in Massachusetts, what does this mean for college students?
The answer is, potentially, a major legal headache and the potential loss of financial aid if a student does not follow the law. And the rules are somewhat complex due to the conflict between state and federal law.
Legally, anyone under 21 is not allowed to buy marijuana, under Massachusetts law. A student 21 or over can have up to 1 ounce of marijuana on their person and up to 10 ounces at home.
However, colleges are free to ban marijuana from campus. And in fact, the federal Drug-Free Schools and Campuses Act requires any college that accepts federal funding to ban student and faculty use of marijuana on campus.
Schools are free to impose their own discipline, such as suspension, for marijuana use. They can ban any visitor who brings marijuana to campus.
“It’s clear that schools can suspend or kick out a person for marijuana conduct that would be legal in Massachusetts,” said attorney John Scheft, an expert in marijuana law.
Under state law, possession of less than two ounces of marijuana by someone age 18 to 20 is punishable by a civil fine of $100 (If someone is under 18, they must also complete a drug class and community service). But there are a number of marijuana offenses that could land a college student with a criminal record, including fines and jail time. These include:
– Possessing more than two ounces of marijuana;
Selling marijuana under any circumstance without a state license;
– Giving marijuana to a minor;
– Selling marijuana paraphernalia, like pipes or bongs, to someone under 21;
– And being a “social host,” which means hosting a party with marijuana for underage friends.
Possession of marijuana also remains a federal offense, although the federal government rarely charges someone with possession unless it is part of a larger crime, like drug trafficking.
The consequences of a criminal conviction can be far-reaching.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, a student’s financial aid – loans, grants or work-study – can be suspended for a drug offense that occurs while the student is receiving aid.
The federal FAFSA form requires students to disclose whether they had a drug conviction while receiving federal student aid. Lisa Rooney, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority, confirmed that a student in Massachusetts who receives a drug conviction while receiving federal aid can have their aid suspended.
A first-time conviction for possession of a controlled substance will make a student ineligible for federal financial aid for a year, with longer penalties for subsequent offenses. A first offense of selling drugs will make a student ineligible for aid for two years, and a second conviction for sales means that student can never get financial aid.
Reinstating eligibility generally involves completing a drug rehabilitation program or passing two unannounced drug tests.
Students receiving aid who are convicted of a drug crime could be forced to return any aid they receive after the conviction.
According to Inside Higher Ed, Department of Education statistics show that around 1,200 college students were deemed ineligible for financial aid in the 2016-2017 school year because of a drug conviction.