Marijuana Legalized: For Schools, Business as Usual

Lusk Albertson PLC's picture

Recreational marijuana is now legal in Michigan. By a roughly 56-44 margin, Proposal 1 ("Prop 1") was passed by voters in the recent election. The specific language of the ballot proposal was as follows:

Allow individuals 21 and older to purchase, possess and use marijuana and marijuana-infused edibles, and grow up to 12 marijuana plants for personal consumption. Impose a 10-ounce limit for marijuana kept at residences and require amounts over 2.5 ounces be secured in locked containers. Create a state licensing system for marijuana businesses and allow municipalities to ban or restrict them. Permit retail sales of marijuana and edibles subject to a 10% tax, dedicated to implementation costs, clinical trials, schools, roads, and municipalities where marijuana businesses are located. Change several current violations from crimes to civil infractions.

Despite commonly held belief, the election results did not mean that people could light up the following day. The Legislature now needs to craft regulations/guidelines for recreational use and is still free to amend the Proposal before it is officially enacted as law, provided legislators have a significant majority of votes in favor of doing so. And, importantly, Prop 1 has no effect on federal law, which still classifies marijuana as an illegal substance. Notwithstanding these additional roadblocks, marijuana use and possession will be generally legal in Michigan. So, what does that mean for school administrators?

As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Prop 1 has little effect on how most students with marijuana on school grounds are handled. The measure legalizes marijuana for those who are at least 21 years of age and, unsurprisingly, most students in a school setting don't meet that criterion. For students, most of whom are well-below the required age of 21, Prop 1 does nothing to grant rights for recreational use of marijuana. Nor does Prop 1 nullify the federal government's mandate that schools operate as zones free of drugs or alcohol. Students who are 21 or older are usually special education students who receive services until they're 26, and those users, if any, will most likely already have medical marijuana prescriptions. Prop 1 does not impact Michigan's medical marijuana laws, which provide that medical marijuana may not be used or possessed on school grounds.

That's not to say that implementation of Prop 1 will be completely smooth sailing for administrators. Legalization is likely to usher in an attitude and culture of permissibility in the student ranks. For that reason, school districts are advised to treat marijuana use and possession like they treat smoking, vaping, e cigarettes, and other substances. That goes for school employees too – workers aren't permitted to arrive or work under the influence of alcohol, after all, and schools will be able to control marijuana use and possession in the same way. Students and staff should be reminded that the legalization of marijuana may change criminal sanctions outside of the school environment, but it has no effect on the school's prerogative to keep marijuana off school grounds – federal law gives school districts little discretion on this front, in any case, as federal funds are granted only if schools maintain "drug and alcohol free workplace" policies.

Inevitably, you'll learn a student has marijuana, or is under the influence of marijuana, on school grounds. What should administrators who find themselves in that situation do? Simple: treat the situation as you do now. Remember, marijuana possession and use still constitute criminal conduct for those who are under 21. For students who are over 21 (and for employees), the situation calls for the same result as if the student appeared with alcohol or under the influence of alcohol.

Prop 1 presents some thorny issues, but generally school administrators can rest easy knowing that those issues don't reach into school business. Bottom line: treat marijuana as if Prop 1 never existed at all. And, of course, if you have any questions, reach out to legal counsel.