Q&A with CSUPD and CSU legal counsel about Amendment 64

The Collegian sat down with Colorado State University Chief of Police Wendy Rich-Goldschmidt and Deputy General Counsel for CSU Jason Johnson to see how Amendment 64 and medical marijuana impacts university policy regarding marijuana use. Marijuana possession is still illegal under federal law. Since CSU receives federal funding, the university considers it an illicit drug.Even medical marijuana card holders are prohibited from possessing marijuana on campus. Rich-Goldschmidt said any student found to be under the influence or in possession of marijuana on campus would likely face some form of “accountability” but what that looks like would be taken on a case by case basis.Collegian: So what change if anything has resulted from the passing of Amendment 64 as far as policy on campus?

Jason: From the university’s perspective, it’s very simple. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law and it is prohibited under the student conduct code and that is university policy as well so students and employees are not allowed to use or possess marijuana on campus or in the workplace.

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Collegian: Even if they have a prescription for it?

Jason: That’s correct.

Collegian: So, Chief Wendy, what is CSUPD instructed to do should they come across a student in the possession of or under the influence of marijuana while on campus?

Chief Wendy: It’s important to remember, of course, that every situation has its own nuances and it’s perhaps a little bit different from the next case. So every situation is going to be addressed specific to what the circumstances are, but as Jason just shared with you it is not lawful. So for students to be possessing or consuming on our campus, there is gonna be some accountability behind that. What specifically the officers might do, again, is gonna be a little bit different in each situation or circumstance but as a general rule, the officers are going to contact that individual and follow up with them. Whether that involves a criminal follow up with a citation or a student code of conduct referral there is gonna be some follow up and sometimes its going to be all of the above. That’s whether the student might be traversing throughout the campus or in residence halls or what have you.

Collegian: OK, so there will be consequences then if they get found with marijuana on campus?

Jason: That’s correct. Using and possessing marijuana is still prohibited under the student conduct code.

Collegian: OK, what if they use it off campus and come to campus and they’re under the influence. Is that an issue?

Chief Wendy: Again, it definitely could be, it’s a consumption-possession type of scenario. So while Amendment 64 provided some new abilities or freedoms that might be specific to a private residence, that does not give you free reign on campus. So for example let’s take a staff member, if you go off campus on your lunch break and smoke marijuana and that’s an issue in the workplace, you know. That would be the same as if I went out and had a drink at lunch and that was impeding my ability to perform my job in the workplace. So that same scenario would apply to students and the staff.

Collegian: OK, so what are some misconceptions that people or students have that need to be clarified?

Chief Wendy: I think the point really is that, Amendment 64, while it did provide some new freedoms for people, it really is more specific to a specific age group, 21 and older, and in the privacy of their homes. University campus is not considered their homes, even residence halls have criteria that restrict that as well even though most of the students that live in our residence halls are not 21. So really Amendment 64 has had really no impact on our rules policies and procedures here at the university.

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Collegian: Jason, I had mentioned that story I had read in the Westword about the CSU Extension offices being instructed not to offer advice on the growing of cannabis. Can you talk for a few minutes about how that came about?

Jason: Sure, as I mentioned, marijuana is still a federally-controlled substance. It is still illegal under federal law. Although Amendment 64 passed and it permitted some recreational use of marijuana, that’s Colorado law, and so federal law is still very clear that the federal government can and has made indications that they would prosecute for violations for the Controlled Substances Act. The Extension offices and since it is a federal controlled substances, they’re limited and they’re prohibited from giving advice to people about how to grow marijuana and so the university because we received federal funds, it could risk our federal funding and so we do not provide advice from our extension offices on how to grow marijuana.

Collegian: Was it just a few instances of that happening or was it becoming more frequent?

Jason: I think it just came from some general questions from our Extension offices. They do great things there out in the communities and really helping people with all of those different issues and so those questions started to come in and we provided advice that they can’t assist with the growing of marijuana.

Collegian: So Jason, can you kind of talk, I know you’ve already talked about this a few times, but you know how federal law kind of trumps state law on this or how you guys look to that for guidance instead of state policy, you had mentioned the federal funding?

Jason: Sure. We as an institution of higher education, we are subject to all sorts of laws from the US constitution, federal law, state constitution, state law and even local regulations in some instances. So we’re constantly dealing with all of these different regulatory bodies and because we receive federal funding and as an institution and as an employer, we have certain obligations under federal law. There’s the federal drug free workplace and federal drug free schools and Safe Communities Act. Under those federal laws we are required to have a policy that prohibits the use of illegal substances such as marijuana. So we have to comply with federal law, we have to comply with state law as well so in this instance the federal law is really clear that it is still a controlled substance so that would trump the state law.

Collegian: Can you kind of just talk about how much time the university’s legal team has spent going over this issue and developing a policy? Or is it like you said, is it pretty easy to say nothing is gonna change or have you guys really had to sort through a lot of stuff to get this figured out

Jason: We get a lot of issues that arise and I wouldn’t say we’ve spent any more time on this than any other issue, but it’s something that, after the election, we made sure we looked at Amendment 64 and how that impacted the campus and from our point of view, it’s very simple. It’s still illegal under the federal law, it’s still prohibited under the student conduct code.

Collegian: Chief Wendy, I had another question. Over the years, and this is more of a general question, do you guys have a lot of contact with students in possession, or is it a pretty isolated thing? Do people know they’ve got to keep it off campus if they’re gonna use it or is it something that you’re constantly having to deal with? What would be your analysis on that?

Chief Wendy: The majority of contacts that we have are going to be odor related in the residence halls. So it’s not particularly common for us to come across somebody who we believe is under the influence of marijuana or another controlled substance on campus, with the exception possibly of alcohol, but the marijuana piece becomes more evident in the residence halls, and yes, it is I wouldn’t say it’s at all uncommon for us to respond to odor investigations in the residence halls. In fact just this week we’ve had a number of those that we’ve responded to. So that’s our primary location that we tend to see more issues.

Collegian: This may be a personal opinion but I just find it hard to believe that people wouldn’t know better (laughter)

Chief Wendy: There’s ways and there’s ways.

Collegian: There’s another question I had. Now that this Amendment 64 has passed and I don’t know what the policy was in the past, but I know for example with traffic and parking tickets you can get a ticket on campus that can also get referred to city court, is that correct? So how does that work with some of these minor possession cases, do they ever get kicked up to the city for any sort of legal stuff or do you guys just deal with it on campus

Chief Wendy: Both. Actually, generally speaking students that we come across with low-level offenses with alcohol or low-level marijuana we have the option and the discretion to apply a CSU substance abuse ticket as opposed to writing them immediately into criminal court. Generally speaking, and again the facts may be different in each case so it may tip it one way or  the other but they will get that first time opportunity to go through the administrative sanctions at the university level and we hope that that’s really a wake up call so that students understand yeah, we are serious about it. If however, there’s a subsequent offense than those students are going to be written into the criminal court system through the district attorney’s office and there’s also some information sharing there that occurs so the district attorney’s office would know that that individual already received a substance abuse ticket and so they might look at that a little bit more seriously in terms of do we need to up the outreach to the student in terms of education. So they might look at that a little bit differently than if it was truly a first time offense.

Collegian: OK, so it’s kind of a case by case basis.

Chief Wendy: It really is, yeah.

Collegian: But there is that possibility that they could face into the legal system basically on the city level?

Chief Wendy: Absolutely, yes. that’s correct

CTV:  So I have a question. Are you guys doing anything different, now, especially, to inform current students and maybe new freshmen next year about the difference between the university policy versus the state policy considering it might not be clear, is there any type of plan for informing students that this actually is what the university still enforces?

Chief Wendy: Yeah, well, you know we try to really keep a good pulse on trends so that we can tailor our conversation points to each group because of course laws, ordinances, policies might change and impact the new freshman class differently and this is a perfect example. So we will definitely be looking at those talking points so that we need to make sure that both the parents and the new students coming in understand exactly what those boundaries are.

Jason: And the university will be providing some additional information just to make sure that it’s very clear what’s expected while on campus

CTV: Do you guys see a drawback in Amendment 64 as far as being CSU is in the state where 64 passed is that going to have a drawback for our university. Are people not going to come? Are you guys preparing for an influx of students?

Chief Wendy: If we had that crystal ball, you know? It may be one of those things that we wait to see what the impact might be. So..

Jason: Yeah I’ve heard some commentary on the news. I wouldn’t have a personal opinion one way or the other but I have heard some people speculating about whether it’s going to increase tourism or increase other people wanting to come to the state. So it’ll be interesting to follow those trends.

Collegian: How much did it impact at all this year when it passed? Did it increase or decrease the individual cases at all?

Chief Wendy: We haven’t really seen anything that we could tie back to Amendment 64 in terms of behavioral changes or …it’s most around this issue of trying to verify, clarify what the boundaries are so that hopefully people are making healthy and safe choices for themselves that are not going to get them into trouble. I think right now we’re really at an information stage. So far nothing has really risen up to cause us concern that we could specifically say is related to 64.

Collegian: I think those are all the questions. Is there anything else you guys would like to add or that you think I may have missed? I definitely I think it’s interesting that you guys look at the federal guidelines for this. I think that’s a really relevant piece.

Jason: Yeah, we’re still subject to those federal laws and the federal position on marijuana is it’s still an illegal substance and we are required to have policies on campus that prohibit use and possession of marijuana for students and employees.

Collegian: And this may be speculation, but that federal policy isn’t changing anytime soon probably.

Jason: I haven’t seen any indications that the federal policy is going to change.

Chief Wendy: The spotlight is kind of on Colorado. There’s two states in the nation that have made this change so we’re really gonna be a test case to see what happens nationally.