Ohio’s laws recognizing the use of medicinal marijuana are at odds with federal laws, leaving Ohio State and other public universities stuck between state and federal law. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

As of January, dispensaries for medicinal marijuana have started opening in Columbus, but state laws legalizing the use of the drug are still at odds with federal laws.

The Medical Marijuana Control Program, which officially went into effect in September, allows those with pre-approved conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis or epilepsy, to meet with a certified doctor and become registered to legally use marijuana to treat their illness.

That law leaves Ohio State and other publicly funded universities stuck between state legislation that treats marijuana as a medicine and federal law that considers it an illegal Schedule 1 substance.

Ohio State’s policy for marijuana, which prohibits smoking it on campus, has not changed despite the opening of medical dispensaries across the state in mid-January.

Douglas Berman, law professor at Moritz College of Law and the director of the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, said Ohio State needs to continue to comply with federal law due to the funding the university receives from the federal government.

“I think the reality is that even figuring out how to get near a solution would not be easy until we get a change in federal law,” Berman said.

In the 2018 Fiscal Year Budget Plan, Ohio State expected to receive $53 million in federal financial aid in the form of the Pell and Supplemental Educational Opportunity grants and over $400,000 from the federal government through grants and contracts. The federal government is “by far the largest source of research support,” according to the budget plan report.

Judd Fishman, a first-year in business, has Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune inflammatory disease that causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. When not in remission, Fishman’s symptoms can include weight loss and chronic pain that can limit his ability to walk or go to class.

Fishman has considered becoming registered for the medical marijuana program, but he understands the university’s policy has not changed.

“When push comes to shove, until it’s legal federally and the school can keep their funding from the government, nothing is going to happen because money is more valuable than a few kids at the university,” Fishman said.

Ben Johnson, a spokesman for Ohio State University, said in an email that while the health of community members is top priority, they have to abide by the law.

“The health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff is our top priority,” Johnson said. “However, marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level, is captured under the university’s alcohol and drug policy as such, and is not permitted on campus.”

Regardless of participation in the program, registered members cannot use marijuana on campus.

“There are people who actually really benefit from it. To make them have to leave where they live [to consume marijuana] when they’re really sick is pretty f-ed up,” Fishman said.

Any university, hospital or business that takes money from the government needs to keep federal law a high priority because of the potential loss of federal funding, Berman said.

Berman also said it can be a cause for concern to have students without accommodation who are in compliance with state law but do not follow university policy at the same time.

“But at another level, you got to be respectful of the reality that all the time, different jurisdictions take different perspectives on these kinds of challenging issues,” Berman said.