In the year since a high-profile case shone a light on the issue of medical-marijuana cardholders living in University of Colorado dorms, only one student using medicinal pot has requested to be released from the school requirement that all freshman live on campus.
CU’s drug policy does not allow marijuana — or any other illegal drug or alcohol — in its on-campus housing facilities. That includes medical marijuana, said CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard.
“It’s not that were trying to punish students who have a legitimate need for medical marijuana,” Hilliard said. “We don’t want marijuana or any other drugs present in the housing facilities because it’s an attractive nuisance.”
The university made that distinction more explicit last year, when then-freshman Edward Nicholson faced criminal charges and was suspended from CU over the summer after the police confiscated about two ounces of marijuana from his residence hall in May 2008. Nicholson was a designated medical-marijuana caregiver for his brother, which allowed him to hold and administer the drug.
After his marijuana was taken, Nicholson hired an attorney and threatened to sue the school. CU eventually dropped the charges, and a few months later, the CU Police Department returned Nicholson’s marijuana to him, to the elation of a crowd of pot advocates gathered outside the station.
But since then, the issue has caused little stir.
Hilliard said the university only has had to refund one student’s housing deposit, as is the policy when a student is released from the on-campus living requirement. In such cases, CU would then refer the student to Off-Campus Student Services, which helps students find apartments off campus.
Andrew Orr, a CU junior and member of the university’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said he understands CU’s reasoning.
“Patients have rights, but you have to respect that it’s the university’s property,” said Orr, a medical-marijuana patient who lives off campus. “It’s a little but unfair, but they’re pretty explicit when you sign the housing contract. It’s like living with your parents: You’re living under their roof and you have to live by their rules.”
Plus, he said, the policy only affects a small number of students, namely freshman.
Nicholson, now a junior living off campus, sees it differently.
“It’s the very least they could have done,” he said of allowing freshman to be released from the on-campus living requirement.
The same rules don’t apply to students with prescriptions for drugs such as Percocet or Oxycontin, Nicholson noted, so why medical marijuana? Freshman patients should have the opportunity to live on campus and have the immersion experience the requirement is designed to ensure, he said.
“It’s going to take more conflicts like mine to see ( the rules ) reformed,” Nicholson said.
Colorado State University in Fort Collins and the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley have the same policy as CU, spokesmen from those schools said. CSU spokeswoman Jennifer Dimas said she’s aware of only one student who requested to move off campus because of a medical-marijuana prescription. UNC spokesman Nate Haas said he isn’t aware of any.
But that may soon change.
The average age of patients on the state’s fast-growing medical marijuana registry is 41, according to statistics from the state Department of Public Health and Environment, which maintains the registry — but it appears to be dropping.
Between July 2008 and June 2009, 22 percent of new patients were males under 30 with a diagnosis of chronic pain, according to state statistics.