State lawmakers are moving Wednesday to deny university and college students living on campus the right to use medical marijuana even if they have the legally required doctor's recommendation for the drug.
Legislation crafted by Rep. Amanda Reeve, R-Phoenix, would make it illegal not only to use but even to possess marijuana on the campus of any public or private post-secondary institution. That would include not only the state university system and network of community colleges but also various private schools that offer degrees or certificates.
And that means not only keeping it out of classrooms and open areas.
HB 2349, set for debate in the House Committee on Higher Education, also would preclude students from using the drug in dorm rooms, even if the person is drinking an infusion rather than lighting up a joint. And it would mean not having the drug among personal possessions for use somewhere off campus.
"This is an attack on patients ... who are abiding by state law," said Joe Yuhas, spokesman for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Association. More to the point, he said the move is illegal and vowed to sue if the measure is enacted.
The 2010 initiative spells out a list of ailments and conditions that qualify an adult to seek a doctor's recommendation to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.
Yuhas, whose group represents those who crafted the initiative, said the law was crafted to ban the use of the drug on public school campuses. But nothing in the voter-approved law precludes adults who have the legally required doctor's recommendation from using it elsewhere.
He said the Arizona Constitution specifically bars legislators from altering anything approved at the ballot unless the legislation "furthers the purpose" of the underlying measure. And this, he said, does not.
The problem, said Reeve, is federal regulations governing universities require that they forbid students from having illegal controlled substances. She said schools that do not comply lose federal funding and financial assistance for students.
Regents spokeswoman Katie Paquet said those federal rules do have exemptions for students who have prescriptions for otherwise illegal drugs, including codeine and other narcotics. But she said - and Reeve agreed - that's no help for a student with a state-recognized doctor's recommendation.
"The federal Controlled Substances Act prohibits the possession, use or production of marijuana, even for medical use," Reeve said.
And what of students who live in a dorm, who a doctor says can benefit from marijuana?
"They're not going to be able to use or possess marijuana on campus," Reeve responded. "That's how we deal with the issue so we can stay in compliance" with federal laws.
In any event, Reeve said the needs of a majority of students who depend directly or indirectly on federal funds outweigh those of a few students who need medical marijuana.
"Do we punish all the students so a few can have their ability to do this?" she said. "Why should all the students suffer?"
Yuhas said Reeve and others are making too much out of this particular conflict between state and federal law. He said the same conflict exists elsewhere, yet Arizona is going ahead and implementing its medical marijuana law.
"Universities aren't being asked to dispense (the drug) or host a dispensary," Yuhas said. That, he said, would raise other issues.
Yuhas also brushed aside Reeve's concern that the federal government is suddenly going to cut off aid to Arizona colleges and universities simply because they do not actively ban students with medical marijuana recommendations from having the drug, saying 15 other states have similar medical marijuana laws.
"This has not been an issue," Yuhas said. "This is a solution in search of a problem."