Side effects: Medical marijuana may be legal across Oklahoma, but on state colleges it's been denied admission
A short walk separates college life from a different sort of higher education.
Pass between the brick and stone columns that mark the north entrance of the University of Oklahoma campus and walk the half-block north on Asp Avenue into Norman’s famous Campus Corner, walking past some of the college town’s most popular restaurants, and you’ll reach the white sign sitting on the sidewalk, its bold, green cross and the words “Now Open” underneath, beckoning customers inside to the shopping area’s first medical marijuana dispensary.
The short distance is ideal for Scott Huggins.
The industrial engineering major at OU said his walk from Gallogly College of Engineering to his job at Green Buffalo Dispensary is only about three minutes.
“It’s so convenient,” Huggins says of his part-time job. “I could throw a rock and hit campus.”
The store carries all things marijuana; from popular flower strands such as Northern Lights and Pineapple Express to edible gummies, marijuana tonics, cannabis-infused olive oil, honey and hot sauce.
Owner Joe Wilson, 34, said they have served all manner of customers since the dispensary opened in March, including students, faculty and staff from across the street. Some have stopped by just to see what a dispensary looks like, others have asked how to get a medical marijuana card and even more have purchased product.
“I think we have the best location in the state,” says Wilson, who grew up in a neighborhood right next to OU’s campus. “We are already dreaming about game day and excited to see what it brings. With 100,000 people out here for football, that is exciting.
“We don’t even care if they just wanna come check us out, we know that people are just interested in this.”
The problem for Wilson and dozens of other dispensaries around the state with the idea to set up near a college campus? Their products have been denied admission.
Despite the fact that more than 30 states have legalized medical or recreational marijuana, cannabis is still illegal under federal law. As all public state colleges receive federal funding, none have taken the plunge to allow the product onto campus, whether for use or study.
In a joint statement by both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State following the passage of State Question 788 to legalize medical marijuana in July 2018, the Bedlam rivals announced they are legally bound to comply with the Federal Drug Free Schools and Communities Act, which mandates the implementation of drug prevention programs and prohibits the use of illegal drugs on campus or at university-sponsored events and activities.
“Even with the evolving state law permitting marijuana use for medical reasons, it is important for students and employees to know they cannot consume, smoke or possess marijuana on campus even though they might have a card or prescription permitting them to do so,” the statement said.
Southwestern Oklahoma State University also publicly announced marijuana is still banned on its campus despite the law change.
Huggins said he knows the rules and lives off campus so it’s never been a problem for him that weed is barred from campus.
“It’s not like they are walking around patting people down,” Huggins said. “Just don’t be an idiot. That’s how you’ll ruin it for everybody.”
But Wilson does wonder why there are tight restrictions around medical marijuana when he’s sure other forms of medicine aren’t banned.
“I think that’s a silly rule,” he said. “You can take a much more powerful or dangerous pharmaceutical to your dorm. If your doctor gave you a recommendation for cannabis, I don’t think it should be treated any different.”
Some wonder if the state colleges are missing an opportunity to educate and provide training in the flourishing marijuana industry.
Several colleges across the country have started to prepare students to work in the marijuana sector, tailoring education for lawyers, accountants, chemists, botanists and more as legalization spreads across the country.
Jake Chilcoat, who graduated from Oklahoma State in 2012 with a degree in Agriculture Leadership, now works as Executive Vice President for CBD Plus USA and Lotus Gold Medical Marijuana Dispensaries.
Though he said he doesn’t use his degree specifically for his job at CBD Plus USA, Chilcoat said the background knowledge he has in agriculture has been handy.
“The knowledge is good even though I'm not working with plants every day,” Chilcoat said.
Chilcoat thinks it’s not really on the state colleges to teach how to grow marijuana. But he does think the universities' research power could prove vital for the industry.
“I don’t think it’s about producing labor because anybody that has a grow business already has a master grower,” Chilcoat said. “Seeing higher education come in and maybe devote some of their time and resources and grant efforts to cannabis research, that would have tremendous value.”
Schools that have started to experiment with cannabis-related courses and degree programs nationwide include Northern Michigan University’s medicinal plant chemistry major, University of California-Davis teaches a marijuana health effects course and Stockton University allows students to minor in cannabis studies.
Despite the ban on campuses, medical marijuana dispensaries continue to position themselves close to universities across the state.
Five dispensaries are within a five-block radius around the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. At OU, four dispensaries can be found within a half-mile radius of campus.
Oklahoma State University has two dispensaries near the Stillwater campus, including one situated on The Strip on South Washington Street, a popular area of shops, restaurants, and bars similar to Campus Corner in Norman.
This upcoming football season, CBD Plus USA partnered with Learfield Sports, a sports marketing firm, to get its ads to play during both radio and television broadcasts for both OU and OSU football.
But as far as allowing marijuana on campus, Oklahoma State President Burns Hargis said until it is federally legal, don’t expect to see it on campus.
“We get a lot of money from the federal government, and marijuana is federally illegal,” Hargis said. “Until that changes, we are not going to stick our necks out.”