Cannabis on Campus: A Deep Dive Inside Higher Education Pot Policy in Prohibition States
In this three-part series, journalist Danielle Corcione investigates how cannabis policy impacts colleges and universities. What are the stakes facing students, who live in legal states, or in states that haven’t even legalized medical marijuana?
In part two, we’ll tackle how higher education institutions in states bordering Colorado handle cannabis on campus, with a deep look at Nebraska.
Colorado’s cannabis legalization policy has been a challenge to its neighboring state of Nebraska: The Cornhusker state has been a strict opponent to adult use cannabis.
In 2016, Nebraska, along with Oklahoma, attempted to sue Colorado on behalf of its neighbor’s progressive cannabis policy, but the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Nonetheless, Nebraska’s governor Pete Ricketts has insisted time and time again that “marijuana is a dangerous drug.” More recently, the Lincoln Star-Journal reports that local police raided a family-owned CBD store in Scottsbluff (located in the western region of the state, about 60 miles away from the Colorado border) and arrested its owners, a mother-son team.
In this kind of political climate, how are Nebraskan university students impacted by prohibition? An anonymous source, who attended the University of Nebraska — Lincoln, told Civilized that two university officers knocked on their door, which was located off-campus, near midnight on April 20. The reason? To issue a citation for “disorderly household” regarding a party they had weeks ago. But by the time the student opened the door, “it was too late.” In addition to paraphernalia, campus police found concentrate in their residence, which they sent to a lab to be tested for THC.
Campus policy resembles local and state policies for drug possession, use, and/or sale. The University of Nebraska, the state’s largest public university, outlines campus drug policy descriptively in their Student Code of Conduct, which looks pretty similar to that of any other university Any student deemed guilty of use, possession, manufacturing, or distribution of marijuana, heroin, narcotics, or other controlled substances, or drug paraphernalia will face disciplinary consequences.
However, students won’t just be addressed by campus police if found guilty of charges; they must also report to local jurisdictions. “Students also may be subject to the criminal justice system if University Police issues a citation,” Leslie Reed, Director of Public Affairs at the University of Nebraska — Lincoln, told Civilized in an email. “However, possession of marijuana may be eligible for diversion in the Lancaster County Courts.” Diversion programs require those convicted with drug charges to participate in rehabilitation programs, with the goal of preventing future arrests and charges.
The anonymous source didn’t hear anything from campus police until July, when they were taking summer classes. “I get out of my class, I walk to my bike, and then I see one of the arresting officers outside the building,” they explained over the phone. “He walked up to me and said that the lab results came back, that the concentrate was positive for THC, and that concentrates are a felony in Nebraska, so he had to arrest me. I was arrested right there on campus. I was escorted to jail.”
In addition to spending 24 hours in jail, the source (who’s asked to remain anonymous due to their criminal record) participated in a diversion program (through Lancaster County) for a year, where they completed 60 hours of community service and were subject to drug testing. Because they ended up in diversion, they were not suspended from school. However, their legal issues made it difficult for them to register for classes because their account was flagged due to their judicial record. Additionally, as standard protocol, they were required to meet with multiple university departments, such as the Dean’s office and counseling services. “[I tried] to show them I’m just a student just trying to go to class here,” they said.
In addition to the same federal laws that impact schools even in adult use states, local drug laws impact students, as well. Notably, under Nebraska’s Uniform Controlled Substance Act, students face disciplinary fines, probation conditions, tax provisions, prosperity forfeiture, and even incarceration. These penalties increase for any student under 18 years old.
“Nebraska has decriminalized user amounts of flower marijuana, so if you have less than an ounce of flower of marijuana, it’s a statutorily mandated $300 fine. You don’t go to jail,” Daniel Richard Stockmann, an Omaha-based criminal defense attorney, told Civilized in a phone interview. “If you have more than an ounce but less than a pound of marijuana, it’s a Class III misdemeanor that carries up to 90 days in jail, [however] no minimum sentence, and up to a $500 fine. If you have over a pound of marijuana, it’s a Class IV felony, [which] carries up to two years in jail, up to a $10,000 fine.”
Stockmann said that the state treats hash products (“wax, shatter, stuff like that”) differently than flower, in that cannabis concentrates carry harsher penalties. Enforcement on edibles, he said, varies from county to county.
Another huge component to Nebraska’s drug enforcement is border policing, or the transporting of cannabis across state lines. (This applies more to students in the western part of the state closer to Colorado.) In court, the origin of the cannabis doesn’t matter, whether it’s from Colorado, grown at home in Nebraska, or elsewhere. However, what does matter is that traveling from Colorado increases the likelihood of a highway traffic stop.
According to Stockmann, traffic stops are happening more often at the Colorado-Nebraska border — and particularly, police are looking at license plates more and more closely. Colorado Hometown Weekly reports that many with Colorado plates, including a student attending Chadron State College in Nebraska, feel like they’re a target for traffic stops.
Local police patrol have been paying close attention state border ever since Colorado passed a recreational measure in 2012. According to NET News report, 70 percent of police on the I‑80 corridor reported an increase of those suspected of transporting weed. Additionally, 89 percent of surveyed police agreed traffic stops were effective in reducing drug transportation.
“It is people coming from Colorado who typically buy user amounts of hash products from a dispensary,” Stockmann added. “Any amount of that they are caught with on the interstate is a felony. They find themselves booked in county jail.”
Nebraska’s higher education institutions are models for cannabis prohibition because they heavily rely on local jurisdiction over federal. Not only are students impacted by outdated federal law, but they’re also influenced by strict local jurisdictions, including rural ones, who have a stark opposition to cannabis, even for legitimate medicinal use.