White and green, not light the green

Marijuana of any kind still prohibited at SRU

Published by Annabelle Chipps, Date: February 5, 2024
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As state laws change and national usage rates increase, students question the status of marijuana on SRU’s campus. Current regulations could result in both legal and academic consequences for those who use the drug. 

“Marijuana in any form for any reason is prohibited on campus,” Scott Irlbacher, director of student conduct, said. This includes medicinal marijuana.

“[F]ederal law requires all school campuses to be drug free,” he said. “If SRU were to fail to enforce this federal policy, we would risk fines or our eligibility for students to pay for their education with federal grants and loans.”

Legal consequences  

Students are subject to the same legal treatment as any other Pennsylvania citizen. If they are caught in possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana, this warrants a misdemeanor charge. 

“[P]ossible penalty is 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $500,” Kevin Sharkey, chief of campus police, said. Charges grow with the amount possessed. 

Even if no substances are found, being under the influence of marijuana could result in a Non-Traffic Citation, according to Sharkey. 

Irlbacher claimed it is not technically illegal to “simply be under the influence of marijuana,” but that this changes if a person is a danger to themself or others. 

“One key factor is if you’re smoking marijuana and get pulled over, [you] could be possibly charged for driving under the influence. Many think they are ok to drive but you’re not,” Sharkey said. 

It is common for university police to submit a report to SRU when a student is involved in a crime.

“If a student is found to be in possession of marijuana by police and reported to the university, they could face both legal and school discipline,” Irlbacher said. “There are cases when police choose to not file criminal charges but the university still processes it through Student Conduct.” 

Academic consequences 

Disciplinary action through SRU is evaluated on a case-to-case basis. 

“Simple possession of marijuana will be treated differently than selling marijuana or a DUI from being under the influence of marijuana,” Irlbacher said.  

The process involves a referral to Student Conduct with “credible evidence such as a police report or photos and video clearly showing a violation,” he said. 

The report will then be overlooked and sent to a hearing officer from either Student Conduct or Residence Life, depending on the location of the incident. 

“Simple possession could result in something educational like drug education and parent notification while more serious violations…could involve disciplinary probation,” Irlbacher said. 

It is also possible for violators to be removed from university housing. However, severe measures are reserved for severe situations. 

“Student Conduct operates at the intersection of empathy and accountability; this means we want to understand why a student is choosing to break the law…” Irlbacher said. “Our goal is to educate students to make the best ‘adult decisions,’ and punitive sanctions like suspension or expulsion are used as a last resort.” 

Student experiences 

Violators at SRU are frequently caught due to residential room checks and other campus procedures. 

“University employees like CAs and administrators are required to report illegal activity including marijuana possession or use,” Irlbacher said. 

The Rocket spoke with several individuals who have been disciplined for marijuana-related incidents. 

One former student said she was using her medical marijuana cartridge when a police officer knocked on her door and claimed the hallway “reeked” of it. 

The officer did not confiscate the cartridge because it was prescribed but did take her dried marijuana flower and water pipe as paraphernalia. She was fined $400. 

Another student, who is currently a senior, shared that he accidentally dropped his “designated weed bag” outside Building B. The bag itself and non-marijuana-related items inside were never returned and he was fined $500 for possession. 

University police reported that 2023 yielded seven marijuana-related arrests and eight referrals to student conduct. The prior year held seven arrests and 11 referrals. 

But what if I have a ‘med-card?’

A person prescribed medical marijuana can obtain an identification card, or ‘med card’ that allows them to eat, vaporize or topically apply the drug. 

They are not lawfully permitted to smoke it. On campus, they are not permitted to use it at all. 

“Students with proper credentials may possess, store and use medical marijuana off campus,” Irlbacher said. 

Students expressed frustration with this federal regulation. 

“I have epilepsy and the only thing that stopped my seizures was weed,” one medicinal user said. “Being in the dorms and having to walk off campus, usually at night to avoid any problems, just to medicate was very uncomfortable for me as a female.” 

The student feels that individuals with a valid ‘med-card’ should be able to use their prescriptions “even if it’s only [cartridges] and edibles.” 

Another student suggested training sessions on how to safely use the drug indoors or perhaps designated areas for use.

“The little smoking areas they have now would be fine just as long as we have it legally,” the student said. “If we can [have] it according to the state I don’t understand why it’s a big issue.” 

Irlbacher said that national policy takes precedence over changes at the state level.

“Students must follow the law and have to navigate the gap between federal drug policy and Pennsylvania drug policy,” he said.

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