By J. Harvard Feldhouse
The Ohio Legislature legalized medical marijuana in 2016. Yet, Youngstown State University and many universities nationwide continue to prohibit it in any capacity. How will YSU’s policy affect students as medical marijuana becomes more widespread?
There are 21 medical conditions that marijuana can be prescribed for in Ohio, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. Ohio expects around 200,000 to 300,000 people will apply for a medical marijuana card, but around 3.5 million Ohioans qualify, according to a July 2018 Cincinnati Enquirer article by Anne Saker.
Daniel Kessler, CEO of Youngstown-based marijuana cultivation facility Riviera Creek Holdings LLC, cited that around 20,000 people are currently registered in Ohio, as of a few weeks ago.
“Of that, 44 percent are 40 to 59 years old, 21 percent are 30 to 39 and less than 1 percent are under 18,” Kessler said.
The remaining 34 percent consists of 19- to 29-year-olds and those older than 60. Only a small portion of those registered are the “average college student,” but as time goes on, more Ohioans will register.
However, marijuana is still federally illegal. Erin Hungerman, associate director for student conduct, said YSU plays it safe by following federal law for its medical marijuana policy.
“Our institutional policy regarding marijuana isn’t changing, despite issuance of medical marijuana cards,” Hungerman said. “Since we receive federal funding as an institution, and almost all schools do, we are required to follow federal drug laws, regardless of state laws.”
Hungerman also said that YSU’s smoke-free initiative could come in conflict with active marijuana use on campus.
The Controlled Substances Act federally criminalizes any type of marijuana, medical or otherwise. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, marijuana is a schedule one drug, which means it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-OH, disagrees with CSA and is pushing for federal decriminalization of marijuana, especially for medical purposes as an alternative to opioids. He said marijuana can provide a lot of relief for patients and should be utilized to its full medical potential.
College students suffer largely from anxiety and depression, 41.6 percent and 36.4 percent respectively, according to the American Psychological Association. Ohio is currently researching how marijuana affects anxiety and depression sufferers, according to a Jan. 9 Cincinnati Enquirer article by Saker.
Should Ohio find anxiety and depression treatable by marijuana, YSU and other Ohio universities with strict medical marijuana policies could have a conflict between federal mandate and the well-being and success of their student body.
“A lot of college students have medical issues they struggle with, and access to medical marijuana will give them a quality of life to help pursue studies,” Ryan said.
Until federal law changes in regards to medical marijuana, YSU and other colleges will likely not change its policy. In the meantime, students will have to find alternate treatment or change when and where they use their medical marijuana.
“There’s a stigma around marijuana that people believe — that it’s a gateway drug, that it can kill people — but it doesn’t,” Ryan said. “Legalization is only a matter of time as these issues continue to be presented to the American public.”