Medical Marijuana in Arizona Universities

An exploration of the future of medical marijuana on university campuses in Arizona by Valentine Sargent, a student at Northern Arizona University.

Medical Marijuana, Image: iStock

The legalization of Arizona Proposition 203 in Arizona on 2 November 2010 allowed for medical card holders to use and possess medical marijuana, as well as not be prosecuted for its use. Despite this law, students are prohibited from the use of marijuana on university campuses regardless of being medical card holders.

According to the Arizona Department of Health and Services (ADHS), anyone who meets the qualifications can be accepted for a medical card if they have: “cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis C, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Crohn’s Disease, agitation of Alzheimer’s disease, cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe and chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy and severe or persistent muscle spasms”.

In order to apply for a medical card, patients must have a doctor who is licensed to practice in Arizona and has a relationship with the patient, to fill out a form signing off on their condition. After paying a fee of about 300 dollars, the patient then is either accepted or rejected by the ADHS. If accepted, the patient receives the card in the mail two to three weeks later and is able to buy and possess medical marijuana in any dispensaries in Arizona.

Arizona Proposition 203 was passed stating that medical marijuana use is not prohibited on “a school bus, on the grounds of any preschool or primary or secondary school, and in any correctional facility”. It never explicitly mentioned the prohibited use on college and university campuses, although in 2012, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a law stating the prohibition of medical marijuana use and possession at colleges and universities.

On May 23 2018 the Arizona Supreme Court spoke out about the 2012 law and it came to the conclusion that, according to The Arizona Republic, “The 2012 law said colleges and universities were allowed to criminally charge for marijuana possession, but the court ruled that the schools don’t have the authority to enact criminal laws”.

In the same week, the The Arizona Republic quoted the Arizona Board of Regents in a statement that said, “While the Arizona Supreme Court today has ruled that medical marijuana patients are not subject to criminal arrest if they have their drug on college and university campuses, the universities and the board may enforce administrative policies prohibiting drugs on campus”. Arizona’s universities do not follow Proposition 203 on campuses, the reason being that they must comply with the federal laws or else they may lose their federal funding.

Northern Arizona University, Image: Rachael Bouley

It is not stated whether or not a student involved in a drug related incident is a cardholder, but in a report by the ADHS in 2017, out of the 151,512 patients, almost a fourth of them are between the ages of 18 and 30. Michael Graves, a second-year resident assistant at Northern Arizona University, said that in a NAU report for the last 2017 year, there have been 123 arrests and 268 referrals due to marijuana incidents on campus, a total of 391 cases.[1]

The options for students who are card holders are limited. A student is technically allowed to keep the prescribed drug in their vehicle which is their personal property, said NAUPD officer Seth Lofgren, in a Lumberjack article posted in early October. “Other alternatives include a friend’s house or renting out a locker at some off-campus places. There is a myriad of options out there to store it as a private citizen, so long as it’s not on campus,” said Lofgren. While there are alternatives, there are a few concerns as to storing it on an off-campus location.

Graves said that even though off-campus storing spaces are available, it would require them to pay the storage facility despite “having the card for a reason and [the students] needing to medicate for a reason.” “Say their friend doesn’t have a card and right now it is still not [recreationally] legal in Arizona, so then the system we have right now is basically encouraging to put someone else at fault in the eyes of the law. You are putting someone else at fault to have them store your marijuana that you are not allowed to keep,” Graves said.[2]

The option of the university providing a locker or storage area for students is also proposed, Graves mentioned as well as Hannah Wiegman, a medical marijuana cardholder for back pain, sophomore and Parks and Recreation major at NAU. Graves also agreed with the idea of having a storing place at NAUPD where they can also medicate in a regulated area, but he said ideally the students would be able to keep it in their rooms. “[Students] should be able to have a lock box or [something] portable to take on and off campus,” Wiegman said.[3]

Students are ultimately required to follow the universities policies placed by the Board of Regents, despite the state laws. If not, they can face serious consequences.


Valentine Sargent is a student at Northern Arizona University. 


[1] Michael Graves – a resident assistant who has dealt with many marijuana-related incidents

[2] Michael Graves – a resident assistant who has dealt with many marijuana-related incidents

[3] Hannah Wiegman – a medical marijuana card holder who is a sophomore at NAU

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