The private recreational use of marijuana by adults in Oregon has been legal for months, and last week, you could start buying recreational marijuana at medical dispensaries that elected to join in on early sales of pot.
But Oregon’s grand experiment with legalized marijuana won’t have any effect on the state’s colleges and universities, including Oregon State University.
College administrators last week emphasized that nothing has changed on campuses, even as people lined up at dispensaries to buy recreational marijuana.
That hard line for higher education makes sense, especially at universities like OSU that attract millions of dollars of federal funding for research. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and no university is going to jeopardize one penny of its federal funding by easing up on its regulations on pot. (Besides, OSU’s campus is smoke-free, and that presumably includes marijuana smoke.)
But this does underline the continuing silliness of the federal government’s hard-line stance against marijuana. The feds still continue to regard marijuana as a Schedule I substance, the category reserved in part for drugs that have no currently accepted medical use, a designation that will surprise the thousands of Oregonians who use medicinal pot. (The state of Oregon, by the way, moved marijuana off the Schedule I list back in 2010, but that doesn’t carry any water with the federal government.)
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That hard-line federal stance explains why OSU also bans its researchers from doing any sort of work that physically involves marijuana. The university’s policy is reasonably clear on this point: It prohibits research that “involves the possession, use or distribution of marijuana,” unless that research complies with guidelines established by federal agencies — and we already know what the feds think about marijuana.
This, too, seems silly, and it gets sillier: The ban also prohibits OSU faculty members from performing research involving industrial hemp.
There’s plenty of interest nationwide and in Oregon in growing industrial hemp, which has negligible amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana. The fiber from industrial hemp can be used in paper, clothing, rope and for a variety of other uses. The United States is the world’s largest consumer of hemp, but it still is listed as a Schedule I controlled substance, which is ludicrous. (On a related note, those of you who haven’t tried marijuana for decades but are curious should remember that today’s pot has considerably higher levels of THC than back in the day, so be forewarned.)
Back on topic: Considering the potential industrial hemp offers to Oregon farmers, it would make sense for OSU researchers to wade right in and work on the crop. But until the federal government rolls back its stance on hemp, you won’t see that happen on campus. (The potential of hemp as an agricultural commodity, by the way, is one of the very few issues on which U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Rand Paul agree.)
As states move ahead on their own regarding legalizing marijuana, the federal government’s stance on the drug increasingly seems like an outlier. In the case of the prohibition against industrial hemp, another word again comes into mind: It’s just silly. The feds should get out of the way, and that process starts by decriminalizing hemp.