BILL WOULD BAN SMOKING—INCLUDING MEDICAL MARIJUANA-- AT PUBLIC COLLEGES IN CALIFORNIA

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By Miriam Raftery

April 26, 2016 (Sacramento) – The California Assembly has approved Assembly Bill 1594, a measure touted as banning smoking and vaping on all California State University and community college campuses statewide (smoking is already banned at the University of California). But as written, this measure also appears to outlaw smoking marijuana including medical marijuana, even in the privacy of one’s dorm room or vehicle on campus.

The measure would ban smoking of “tobacco or another plant product, whether natural or synthetic,” including through use of pipes, hookahs, cigars, electronic cigarettes or other devices.

California voters approved medical marijuana over a decade ago as a constitutional amendment.  So would banning students’ access to medical marijuana pose constitutional challenges?  Could it jeopardize health if a student took the medication for, say, preventing seizures or easing nausea from chemotherapy?

The bill passed by a 41-23 vote Monday, with local Assemblymember Shirley Weber voting for and Brian Jones against. It is unclear, however, whether the members were aware of the language including medical marijuana, since the bill’s analysis and media reports have made no mention of this.

The bill’s author, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento has said his bill would promote a safe, healthy environment for students to learn. Supporters have largely come from the pro-tobacco camp, with little or no attention being paid to the impact on medical marijuana patients.

A measure to legalize recreational marijuana is expected to come before voters in November.  Even if passed, legislators could presumably restrict where recreational marijuana could be smoked, just as smoking tobacco products can be restricted in public places including public colleges and universities.

But unlike tobacco, which has no medicinal value, marijuana does have recognized medicinal properties for conditions from glaucoma to epilepsy. Just where should the line be drawn between protecting students’ health from smoke inhalation vs. jeopardizing students’ health by restricting access to a lawful medication? 

Should AB 1594 pass the State Senate and be signed by the Governor into law, can court challenges on constitutional grounds be far behind?