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University Officials Not High On Legalization Of Weed

Richard Vogel
AP Photo
Crystal Feldman takes a puff off a cannabis vape pen during a party in downtown Los Angeles.

Illinois’ new governor JB Pritzker has said he wants to legalize, tax, and regulate the sale of recreational marijuana. That move would complicate life for University leaders around Illinois and in Bloomington-Normal.

Don’t expect Illinois State University or Illinois Wesleyan University to welcome doobies, special brownies, or gummy candy with a little extra THC, as well as TLC.

Mary Jane will not be able to enroll at either campus. IWU Vice Dean of Students Karla Carney-Hall said cannabis use on university property will remain against the Student Code of Conduct.

"They wouldn't be sanctioned for cannabis use off campus."

“We have to be consistent with what the federal expectations are, and we would not allow marijuana on campus,” Carney-Hall said. “We would probably not address off-campus behavior unless it came back on campus and presented as some type of disruption or distraction or issue for us on campus.”

Both Illinois Wesleyan and Illinois State accept federal funds through financial aid programs and research grants. That means no joints in the joint. No ifs, ands, or buds.

ISU Police Chief Aaron Woodruff said off of University property the atmosphere could get, well, smokier.

“In terms of off-campus behavior, the Code of Conduct follows them wherever it's at,” Woodruff said.

But with cannabis legalized statewide, the university would have to make changes to the code.

“So at that point, that Code of Conduct wouldn't hold students accountable, or they wouldn't be sanctioned for cannabis use off campus,” he added.

By the way, it’s not just federal student aid and research funding at issue. Woodruff noted state law bans smoking, vaping, and tobacco use on campus grounds.

What college students do on their own time and away from university property is on them. But what about student athletes?

Larry Lyons
Credit Illinois State University
ISU Athletics Director Larry Lyons

ISU Athletic Director Larry Lyons said the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA, includes marijuana on a list of prohibited drugs. And he said athletes have to uphold a different standard.

“My preference would be that cannabis not be legalized in the state of Illinois for student athletes,” Lyons said. “Though I understand that the state is looking through a much bigger lens regarding this issue than just the impact on intercollegiate athletics.”

Lyons said ISU Athletics conducts random drug tests on student athletes. He said so does the the NCAA, making even off-campus use problematic for athletes.

Woodruff said cannabis testing is an issue for everyone, not just athletes. Woodruff said pot makes drivers sluggish. After the high is over, he said it lingers. And no solid research shows how long it lingers in the body. The time it takes to flush cannabis out of a body depends on the THC content of the product used. Impairment symptoms and length of impairment vary from person to person.

“The immediate impairment, you can see some of the effects,” Woodruff said. “There are some tests that we can do in the field to tell if somebody is too impaired. For driving, for example, we would still notice maybe some driving behaviors, they may be driving slower than the speed limit, they may be still be weaving, they may fall asleep at the wheel.”

"Think of in the same way of alcohol. Twelve ounces of beer is not the same thing as 12 ounces of hard liquor."

Woodruff said it helps to think about THC like alcohol.

“Two-point-five grams of an actual leafy substance is much different than 2.5 grams of cannabis oil,” he said. “So the THC content, think of in the same way of alcohol. Twelve ounces of beer is not the same thing as 12 ounces of hard liquor. The alcohol content is different for each one.”

He said that’s one issue the legislature will have to consider for legalization.

“Just because somebody has 10 grams, that could be a reasonable amount for leafy substance, and say, maybe kind of an excessive amount for somebody who has an oil-based substance or even potentially some types of edibles.”

Ten grams is a typical cap in existing cannabis legislation.

“Generally, under 10 grams was typically considered personal use amount,” Woodruff said. “It would be an amount that, you know, think of it much like a 2.5 might be like a joint or like a cigarette. And then so you're looking at 10 grams would be like, kind of like a pack of cigarettes type idea.”

He said most ISU students caught with marijuana have less than 10 grams. Any more than that and Woodruff said police wonder whether an individual is selling the product. Pritzker has said selling pot without a license will remain illegal.

Even setting aside legality and driving impairment, University leaders are not big fans of pot.

“Students who are already low-performing students, if they are regular cannabis users, perform lower,” Woodruff said. “And students who are even high-achieving students perform much lower than they would have than they were prior to that cannabis use.”

Woodruff said with recreational cannabis now legalized in 10 states, research is just starting on long-term effects of cannabis use.

Woodruff and Carney-Hall say universities can’t afford to wait too long.

“Anytime we look at substances of any kind on a college campus, student well-being and student success and student safety are at the heart of any policy decisions related to that,” Carney-Hall said.

She said universities have a duty to intervene when impairment hurts student behavior.

Karla Carney-Hall portrait
Credit Illinois Wesleyan University
IWU Dean of Students Karla Carney-Hall

“In the case of marijuana, if a student came back and was completely disengaged in class, completely unmotivated, completely unconnected to their classroom experience, we're going to address the disconnection and we're going to address the ways that (marijuana use) is impacting their academic success,” Carney-Hall said.

With the lack of research on long-term THC impairment, Lyons from ISU Athletics said he cannot support legalization and use among student athletes.

“But my personal perspective, I can't see where there's value from the academic side, and I don't see where there would be value on the competitive side,” he said. “When an athlete is training, I don't see a value from a nutrition side. So I don't see value from legalizing cannabis and the impact on a student athlete in their particular career while they're in college.”

Of course, cannabis isn’t the only substance that can impact student behavior. Take alcohol, for instance. The legal drinking age comes around halfway through a traditional student college experience, and universities have dealt for decades with the many problems beer and booze bring. They say they don’t like the idea much, but they would deal with the problems created by cannabis too. In fact, they already are.

Woodruff said pot is rapidly rising as a concern, nationally and at ISU.

“With the current generation of students, there's actually been a decrease in the use of alcohol,” Woodruff said. “Students are less likely to use alcohol, it seems, and it seems they're actually more likely to use cannabis.”

"I don't see value from from legalizing cannabis."

A change in state recreational marijuana policy would impact college campuses. But local university leaders say the only benefit they see is fewer drug arrests.

ISU Police reported 356 drug law referrals in 2017, which includes marijuana possession reports of less than 10 grams. In the same year ISU PD referred 862 people for liquor law code of conduct issues, about two times the number of marijuana referrals.  

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