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Students Discuss Cannabis in the Context of the Catholic Church

As the state of Massachusetts deliberates how to regulate the use of cannabis following Massachusetts voters' decision to legalize marijuana last November, the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) chapters at Boston College and UMass Boston presented recommendations to Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission regarding how universities should handle use of cannabis among students on Oct. 2. 

Two days later, SSDP, along with BC’s chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, hosted a discussion with students on the Catholic Church’s view on cannabis and how that affects students at BC.

As a Jesuit Catholic institution, BC bases many of its policies around the beliefs of the Catholic Church. The Code of Student Conduct's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities holds “all student members of the Boston College community ... to respect the values and traditions of Boston College as a Jesuit, Catholic institution.” 

According to SSDP chapter president Leslie Templeton, MCAS ‘20, “Right now, the Catholic Church is pro-medical marijuana, but because you read in the Bible [that] every kind of drug that alters your state you’re supposed to do in moderation, they are against recreational use.”

However, in their official policy, BC outright bans the use of cannabis on campus and fails to make any comment on the use of cannabis for medical reasons:

“The federal government regards marijuana as a Schedule I Controlled Substance, and possession of marijuana remains illegal in Massachusetts. . . While Boston College prohibits the possession and use of marijuana, the University’s response is reflective of the particularly complex and changing societal view of marijuana. Despite this pending change in law, Boston College’s policy remains unchanged: the possession, use, consumption, manufacturing, sale or distribution of drugs, including marijuana, by students or employees is prohibited.” (4.3.2: Drug Policy).

SSDP is currently advocating for a more specific policy regarding student use of cannabis at BC.

First and foremost, the group asks that BC “uphold state law on campus,” which includes “grant[ing] protections for card-holding medical marijuana students to possess and consume MMJ in designated areas on campus” and making it so “students who are over twenty-one [are] able to legally possess marijuana on campus without fear of jeopardizing school standing or funding.”

However, complications arise due to conflicting federal laws.

Under the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, colleges and universities must certify that they have adopted and implemented policies that prevent the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of illicit drugs and alcohol by students and employees on campus in order to receive federal funding. At the federal level, this includes any amount of cannabis, which means that the use of cannabis remains illegal on college campuses across the country.

Nevertheless, Students for Sensible Drug Policy continues to push, and asks that “underage possession and consumption of marijuana on campus . . . have equal disciplinary actions as underage drinking and possession of alcohol,” which are not nearly as severe.

Outreach Coordinator for the SSDP and guest speaker at last Wednesday’s discussion, Elise Szabo, Kent State University '18, commented that alcohol does not have the same stigma as cannabis and that she finds it is interesting that “something that you might consider [to be] something from God, like a pure plant, would be so harshly discriminated against.”

“Something else that should definitely be of importance to Catholics, and Christians in general, is the criminal aspect of cannabis,” Szabo elaborated. “Certainly, we should be against locking people up for consuming or distributing cannabis, or nonviolent crimes at all. That has never made sense to me—why a religion that promotes peace and people feeling and growing in their spirituality and as a person should want to lock people behind bars for using a plant.”

While the BC policy remains unchanged for the time being, SSDP at BC and at universities across Massachusetts are working toward the decriminalization of cannabis use on campus and improved school policies regarding cannabis overall.

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