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National Center for Campus Public Safety

The Effects of Marijuana Legalization and Decriminalization on Campus Safety at Institutions of Higher Education

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The number of institutions of higher education (IHEs) that operate in states where marijuana use is now legal or decriminalized is expanding, and those changes are creating new challenges for campus safety professionals at IHEs across the nation. A growing body of conflicting state and federal regulations has made it difficult to determine what IHEs can require of students, faculty, and employees in terms of drug use on and off campus. On top of this, the chemical nature and physical form of marijuana has changed significantly in the last 20 years, making it more difficult for users to manage the effects of and campus safety professionals to detect. In their efforts to provide safe environments for their communities, officials can struggle to maintain the personnel, funding, and technology to address the growing issues associated with legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana on campus.   

To identify specific challenges IHEs face with regard to marijuana legalization and decriminalization, and consistent with its role as a nationwide resource for addressing critical issues in campus safety, the National Center for Campus Public Safety (NCCPS) facilitated an emerging issues forum on June 10, 2016.

Campus public safety executives participating in the forum developed consensus on the following findings:

  • The world of marijuana is changing faster than educational, training, and enforcement efforts can keep pace with.
  • Conflicts between federal and state laws and a lack of national data-collection standards are complicating nearly all aspects of addressing marijuana on campuses.
  • IHE campus safety agencies need up-to-date drug-detection technology, more funding, and better options for managing drug offenses efficiently.
  • Legalization and decriminalization of marijuana have outdated IHEs’ student conduct and employment policies.
  • As marijuana use grows, reputation management will become increasingly important for IHEs that want to preserve and promote student success.

The forum included campus safety leaders from eleven IHEs in seven states. Participants identified and discussed the difficulties IHEs face relating to marijuana legalization and decriminalization and grouped them into five categories: rapidly changing science, inconsistent data collection, resource constraints, outdated policies, and perception problems. Forum participants identified a broad range of recommendations that could help IHEs respond to and reduce the growing public safety challenges associated with changes in marijuana laws on and near their campuses.


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