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Legalized Marijuana: What You Need to Know

Public use, smoking under age 21 still illegal


The legalization in Massachusetts of recreational marijuana use, starting December 15, doesn’t mean that every Terrier will now be able to light up. And for those who can, smoking pot on campus, including in dorms rooms, will still be illegal.

While the ballot initiative passed by voters last month allows legal use for those 21 and older, it continues the ban on public pot smoking. Because colleges receive federal money and are bound by federal law, which still prohibits marijuana possession and use, using the drug on campuses remains forbidden for both students and nonstudents.

“The enforcement policy will continue for those under 21 and for smoking in public,” says Scott Paré, acting chief of the BU Police Department. “The use, possession, distribution, or cultivation of marijuana for recreational or medical purposes is not allowed in any Boston University residence hall or on any other Boston University premises. Nor is it allowed at any University-sponsored event or activity off campus or at any student organization event or activity.”

Violators may face “civil citation, state or federal prosecution, and University discipline,” Paré adds.

Adults who can use legally, off campus, under the law are limited to possessing one ounce of dried pot or 5 grams of concentrated substance on their person, with another 9 ounces permitted in their primary residence, for a total of 10 ounces permissible at home. Adults can grow up to 6 plants individually, or 12 plants per household when more than one adult lives in the home. Massachusetts law also prohibits driving under the influence of marijuana.

The law will create a “legal gray zone,” in the Boston Globe’s words: while possession, purchase, and use will be legal as of December 15, retail stores selling pot cannot open until January 1, 2018. Nor can you bring marijuana in from other states, including the five states besides Massachusetts that have legalized recreational pot, says Seth Blumenthal, a BU Writing Program lecturer who teaches courses on marijuana law and endorsed the ballot initiative.

Bottom line for adults off campus: “Growing is the only legal way to get it when the law goes into effect,” says Blumenthal (GRS’13). “There are several regulations to growing: how much, where, and what you can do with it after, so that is something people should look at very carefully first.”

On the other hand, the law may affect fewer Terriers than many people think.

“There is a misperception on campus that marijuana use is common among BU students,” says Katharine Mooney (SPH’12), director of Student Health Services (SHS) Wellness & Prevention. In fact, a recent randomized survey revealed that 82 percent of students either have never used marijuana or hadn’t used it in the previous month, she says.

According to BUPD statistics, 61 students have received civil citations for marijuana use in the last three years.

Because federal law still makes marijuana illegal, “traveling out of the state with pot could bring in federal prosecution” for users, “especially on airplanes,” Blumenthal says. “The federal government has cracked down on some rogue dispensaries or growing operations, but nothing much on the user level. I would also point out possible implications of pot use for some international students and their federal status.”

Legalities aside, there are health reasons to dissuade younger people from pot. “Research has consistently shown that brain development of marijuana users who start young is different from those who start after the brain is fully developed”—around the age of 25, says Leah Barison, an SHS wellness counselor. Adolescent brains are “uniquely sensitive” to pot’s effects, Barison says, particularly in the hippocampus, which controls memory, the cerebellum (regulating coordination and muscle control), the basal ganglia (learning and motor skills), the amygdala (emotions), and the cerebral cortex (thinking).

“In the short term,” she says, “effects on these brain areas can impact memory, judgment, perception, and coordination, which, for our students, may mean impaired learning, lower sports performance, and impaired judgment, leading to altered decision-making.” Long-term consequences could be “poor attention, reduced processing speed, reduced memory, and lower IQ.”

Rich Barlow, Senior Writer, BU Today, Bostonia, Boston University
Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

22 Comments on Legalized Marijuana: What You Need to Know

  • Uchuuko on 12.15.2016 at 5:10 am

    Why bother start smoking in the first place?

    • Jim Stolle on 12.15.2016 at 12:36 pm

      It has medical properties, as well as recreational benefits such as stress and anxiety relief. Humans throughout history have a major tendency to need to change their state of mind. Many use alcohol, a far more dangerous and damaging substance. Now, marijuana can be a safe option.

    • Guru on 12.16.2016 at 10:50 am

      Because I want to be cool like all my peers

  • Your NH Neighbor on 12.15.2016 at 7:51 am

    You should also expect marijuana-related traffic fatalities and accidents to become more commonplace and expect wait times at emergency rooms to become even longer, according to a 2015 report from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Traffic Area. “From 2006 to 2014 overall, marijuana-related traffic deaths increased by 154 percent, from 37 fatalities with drivers testing positive for marijuana in 2006 to 94 in 2014” – http://www.factcheck.org/2016/08/unpacking-pots-impact-in-colorado/
    Merry Christmas.

    • Dan on 12.15.2016 at 9:47 am

      Hello NH, your source also says that there is no way to know if any of those 94 fatalities were actually impaired at death, just that they had marijuana in their system. Which could have been consumed months prior to the accident.

      Also, in 2014 Colorado had over five hundred vehicular deaths due to alcohol impairment, so if your only concern is saving lives you should be arguing for an alcohol ban first.

      • Ben Pearre on 12.21.2016 at 12:17 pm

        …not to mention a ban on SUVs and light trucks, which are extremely common in Colorado, and are between 1.5 and 6 times more likely to kill someone in an accident than a car is (depending on size, safety features, and various other factors).

  • Gman on 12.15.2016 at 8:21 am

    Exactly why smoke? If you are going to enjoy it I would have to recommend vaporizing it. Much less harmful on the lungs. A friend told me soon as he switched over from smoking to using a vaporizer “my lungs just came back. I could run again without sucking wind.”

    As for the statements about “the only legal way to obtain it is if you grow it,” well this is not true. You can obtain permission from your Dr and they can put you on the MMJ trial and after registering officially with the Mass DPH you will obtain your official patient card.

    I don’t know anything about dorm policy, but since your renting that space I think you would have some rights if you are 1. A medical patient and 2. Not smoking it.

    Finally, I’d love to see these studies cited. I’m sure Michael Phelps might have some disagreement with them.

  • Gregg on 12.15.2016 at 9:43 am

    Looking for a little clarification on the law (LAW student here):

    Without having the legislation in front of me (have read the entire 25 pages multiple times), can somebody with knowledge clarify the “date of retail sales” mentioned here?

    As I read it, the commission is required to begin accepting applications for licenses BY October 2017 (I seem to recall it was mid October). Those applications must be returned with a decision within 90 days. Under that reading, I would see Jan 1 18 as the LATEST retail sales can start, not the earliest or even most likely time.

    That said I’d fully expect the commission (based on Gov Baker/Mayor Walsh and others statements against question 4) to drag this out as long as possible.

    Would greatly appreciate any links to statute or regulation that interacts with the question four legislation, or other authoritative references to this.

    Also, we have a professor at the law school who teaches a marijuana law seminar; might be a great interview on the topic.


    • Eugene on 12.15.2016 at 3:50 pm

      Recommend using Westlaw or Lexis. For a public version of the bill consult: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/189/H1561

    • Will Luzier on 12.16.2016 at 3:34 pm


      You are right. The CCC must begin accepting applications for licensure no later than Oct. 1, 2017. However since the latest that the regulations must be in force is Sept. 15 and that process could be attenuated, Jan. 1, 2018 is a realistic timeline. Also if regs. are not in place by 1/1/18 then medical marijuana facilities can start to sell to the adult market.

      Note: The link to the “public version” of the bill in a comment is incorrect. The house version of the initiative is H.3932.

  • Joe Blow on 12.15.2016 at 11:03 am

    They should only enforce marijuana prohibition if they have a federal warrant or subpoena…these hypocrites are more than happy to cooperate with the Feds over something relatively harmless like marijuana when compared to illegal immigration, which can pose a serious national security threat. My tax dollars should not be indirectly subsidizing this school that charges $65k and raises tuition faster than inflation. I sincerely hope they lose federal funding over their immigration stance, and maybe then Pres. Brown will realize he doesn’t have the authority to pick and choose which laws he wants enforced.

  • DINGLEBERRY MCKRINGLEPUFF on 12.15.2016 at 11:24 am

    Whoever Got u this 82% stat saying BU kids haven’t smoked in a month or at all was FADED AF. everyone is faded here man. Don’t scare away prospective stoner students damnit

  • Juozas on 12.15.2016 at 11:27 am

    ““There is a misperception on campus that marijuana use is common among BU students,” says Katharine Mooney (SPH’12), director of Student Health Services (SHS) Wellness & Prevention. In fact, a recent randomized survey revealed that 82 percent of students either have never used marijuana or hadn’t used it in the previous month, she says.”

    Well that is a far-reaching conclusion to make. How can one randomize survey represents an entire university? On top of that, I seriously doubt if this survey was even randomized… Boston University actually has an area, on campus, named: “The Bakery.” Not only that but literally if you ask anyone student on the street, there is a 100% chance they had tried marijuana and a really “high” ;) probability of them smoking the night before to cope with finals and grade inflation dominating BU.
    Please explain how the survey was randomized, because it seems that BU wants to hide the real truth about marijuana from potential students and their parents: BU is full of stoners.

  • Emma on 12.15.2016 at 12:07 pm

    Will be planning to no longer spend my tourist dollars in Mass. This direct defiance of federal law is foolish. The last paragraph says it all: you are at the university to learn, not to damage your brain (or liver I might add) or slow your processing speed and lower your IQ. Colorado is facing a huge public health crisis now, especially on the unregulated edibles market. Wake up peoples.

    • Jim Stolle on 12.15.2016 at 1:16 pm

      You are incredibly ignorant and are pretty obviously being fed terrible information from terrible sources. Turn off CNN.

    • Daniel on 12.15.2016 at 1:20 pm

      I’d like to see your reference where you’re getting the information that Colorado is experiencing a health crises due to legalization of recreational marijuana.

      • Emma on 12.15.2016 at 3:38 pm

        Don’t have the article on hand, but the # of children with serious illness due to edibles ( drugs disquised as candy) has skyrocketed. And CNN has been off at our house for many reasons – not our source of info. There are unintended consequences and complications. But don’t worry, while you all are destroying your IQ smoking before finals, some other kid is getting ahead and hopefully making a difference in the world with their brains intact.

  • Jack on 12.15.2016 at 2:04 pm

    It’s not true that growing is the only legal way to obtain marijuana. Less than one ounce can also be legally given to someone for free. See the Letter from the Secretary of Public Safety: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3238663-Letter-From-Secretary-Bennett-Re-Question-4.html

  • Dr. Md. Aftab Uddin on 03.27.2017 at 9:10 pm

    Thanks Boston University authority for their great role. It is proved that marijuana causes brain damage, learning disabilities and reduce ones cognitive functions. Its legalization may kick student lives. Recently “WHO” also said that – the number of people seeking treatment for cannabis withdrawals are increased dramatically in last decade. So we need more awareness about it.
    Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • Jenifer, MD on 06.14.2017 at 3:32 am

      Thats true…

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