Template: /var/www/farcry/projects/fandango/www/action/sherlockFunctions.cfm
Execution Time: 4.09 ms
Record Count: 1
Cached: Yes
Cache Type: timespan
Lazy: No
SELECT top 1 objectid,'cmCTAPromos' as objecttype
FROM cmCTAPromos
WHERE status = 'approved'
AND ctaType = 'moreinfo'

Cannabis Use on Campus: Research and Advocacy

Health, Safety, and Well-being Policy and Advocacy
September 8, 2023 Reni Mokrii Lafayette College

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts about cannabis use on campus in connection with state legalization. The first post provided an overview of state and federal cannabis legislation and the implication these policies have on higher education. Posts two through four were dedicated to the issue of cannabis education on campus–its urgency, relevant leadership roles, strategies to communicate with students about cannabis use, and guidelines to make cannabis use safer. This post is intended to help student affairs professionals better understand the limitations of cannabis use research, pros and cons of state legalization for higher education, and ways cannabis educators can collaborate with advocacy groups to secure and promote a safer environment for students. As a reminder, NASPA is a nonpartisan organization, and this material is published for educational purposes only.

In this text, the reader will learn about:

  •       Challenges and barriers in conducting cannabis research
  •       Evaluating the impact of cannabis legalization on higher education

Challenges and Barriers in Conducting Cannabis Research

In the first post of the series, the dichotomy between state legislation and federal prohibition of cannabis was highlighted. Beyond its impacts connected to use, possession, and public use on campus, this divide hinders research efforts as well. While medicinal cannabis is getting more popularized and less stigmatized, current research on using cannabis for medical purposes is still in its early stages and those efforts face challenges such as regulatory barriers and limited funding.

With varied procedures across state lines, researchers must go through multiple review processes and receive approvals from entities such as: the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), institutional review boards, offices or departments in state government, state boards of medical examiners, the researcher's home institution, and potential funders. Importantly, as cannabis is a Schedule I substance under the federal law, clinical investigations on medicinal marijuana predominately draw funding from federal bodies such as the National Institute of health (NIH) or NIDA. Researchers must avoid donations from private interest groups such as the cannabis industry. Funding processes may also vary at the institutional level, so scholars are encouraged to reach out to their departmental research committees to learn more. While not all institutions offer public-facing information, local guidance provided by Rutgers University in New Jersey serves as a thorough example of institution-specific policy.

Evaluating the Impact of Marijuana Legalization on Higher Education 

While on-campus cannabis use remains unlawful as stipulated by the Drug Free Schools and Community Act (DFSCA), state cannabis legalization may impact higher education in several ways. 

  • State legalization of cannabis facilitates research. While the review process for potential cannabis research includes both federal and state approval, state cannabis legalization simplifies the process on the state level, and creates access to necessary cannabis products. In states with stringent supply restrictions, researchers struggle to gain access to the quantity, quality, and type of cannabis product necessary to address specific research questions on the health effects of cannabis use. Much of our contemporary data originates from Colorado and Washington, which became the first states to enact legal adult use in 2012. For a deeper dive into the research, the reader is encouraged to take a look at University of Washington Center for Cannabis Research publications. Another great resource is the Coalition of Colorado Campus Alcohol and Drug Educators (CADE) toolkit, which centers on cannabis education and prevention on campus. NASPA highly encourages students affairs professionals to familiarize themselves with the toolkit, as it provides higher education practitioners with prevention research, evidence-informed best practices, and issue-specific terminology.
  • State legalization of cannabis allows for regulation of substance composition, which may enable students to choose lower THC potency products. According to Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines (LRCUG), legally regulated products and devices are more predictable in their composition and potency, so  when a product includes a content label, it is presumably safer. While there is no safe way to use cannabis, high THC potency (over 10%) increases harm. To lower health risks, people who use should look for THC-free, low-THC or high-CBD:THC ratio products.
  • State legalization of cannabis can address long-standing racial and social inequities which connects to a broader conversation around  higher education  equity. Many groups such as ACLU advocate for marijuana legalization as a  social or racial justice issue  in connection with the systemically disproportionate incarceration of Black, Brown, and Latine individuals. Expungement laws for cannabis-offenses in criminal records, may, in turn lead to expanded access to education for historically minoritized individuals and educational equity overall.
  • State legalization of cannabis risks normalization of its use. One study suggests that conformism and normalization of substance use within a social group leads to an increase in alcohol use. Recent research on the influence of social norms on cannabis use patterns among college students points to normalization among friends. However, one of the prominent findings of CADE has been the comparison of national data on students’ cannabis use, and that of students’ use in Colorado. Colorado’s state data show no significant difference between the two. In general, prevalence of cannabis use is higher in states with legal medical and/or legal adult cannabis use. However, higher prevalence rates have been reported both before and after implementation of new cannabis laws, indicating that changes in legislation have occurred in states where cannabis use was already common. Among Colorado college students, legalization has been associated with an increase in the prevalence of initiation of use among college students, however there has been no associated increase in the quantity of cannabis being used. Similarly, college students in Oregon have also reported on the lack of increased use following changes in adult use laws. (This information is adapted from the CADE toolkit)

Did you like this post? Look out for next week's post on cannabis use on campus law enforcement and the role of public safety in cannabis prevention and education. Want to see more topical deep dives? We'd love to hear from you!  Please fill out this form to let us know about what legislative activity, and topical issues you are most impacted by.


-        Cooper, Z. D., Abrams, D. I., Gust, S., Salicrup, A., & Throckmorton, D. C. (2021). Challenges for clinical cannabis and cannabinoid research in the United States. JNCI Monographs, 2021(58), 114-122.

-        Rutgers University Guidance and FAQs on Cannabis Research and Funding

-        University of Washington Center for Cannabis Research Publications

-        CADE Higher Education Cannabis Prevention toolkit

-        Fischer B, Russell C, Sabioni P, van den Brink W, Le Foll B, Hall W, Rehm J, Room R. Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines: A Comprehensive Update of Evidence and Recommendations. Am J Public Health. 2017 Aug;107(8):e1-e12.

-        ACLU: Marijuana Legalization is a Racial Justice Issue

-        Neighbors, C., LaBrie, J. W., Hummer, J. F., Lewis, M. A., Lee, C. M., Desai, S., Kilmer, J. R., & Larimer, M. E. (2010). Group identification as a moderator of the relationship between perceived social norms and alcohol consumption. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 24(3), 522–528

-        Buckner JD. College cannabis use: the unique roles of social norms, motives, and expectancies. J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2013