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Chancellor: VSCS not going to pot

Jeb Spaulding

Jeb Spaulding

Jeb Spaulding

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Despite a landmark change in the state’s prohibition of marijuana, there will be no change in policy at the Vermont State Colleges. In a letter sent out to the VSC community, Chancellor Jeb Spaulding reiterated that despite the change in state law, possession, use and cultivation of marijuana would continue to be forbidden on campus.

Bill H.511 was passed at the beginning of this legislative session at the Statehouse in Montpelier, and subsequently signed into law behind closed doors by Governor Phil Scott. The bill allows the possession of up to one ounce of processed marijuana, and the cultivation of up to two mature and four immature marijuana plants.
The upholding of school policy regarding marijuana use and possession comes as no surprise.

“I don’t believe there’s a college or university in any state where they’ve legalized marijuana that allows for possession and use,” Spaulding said in a phone interview. “We’re not doing anything differently than any other college or university.”
The VSC policy forbidding marijuana possession and use comes mainly as a result of the federal funding the schools receive, and their effort to remain compliant with the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, first established in 1989.
“We have hundreds of students that get federal grants and loans,” Spaulding explained, “and if those were jeopardized, we would be jeopardizing the ability of many of the students that go to Northern Vermont University, Johnson, Lyndon, and Castleton…to be able to continue their college education.”

According to Spaulding’s letter, the Act dictates that colleges must “adopt and implement programs to prevent the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of illicit drugs or alcohol by students and employees,” and although Vermont’s new law will take effect on July 1 of this year, marijuana remains a controlled substance under federal law.
When asked if he was at all worried about an uptick in marijuana use on campus, Dean of Students Jonathan Davis said that he is not, but echoed Spaulding’s statement saying that the federal funds used for financial aid would be impossible to replace in support of the new law.
“The act does not set up a commercial market, and buying and selling marijuana continues to be prohibited by law in Vermont,” the letter also said.

The decision to stay the course on marijuana policy comes after a recent move by the VSC to make their campuses tobacco-free. The policy not only aims to create a healthy, supportive learning environment, but also to educate those on VSC campuses on their options in becoming tobacco-free.

“We’re putting most of our educational efforts on trying to have people understand that we’re moving to a tobacco-free campus, and what kind of assistance is available to people,” Spaulding said in response to a question about whether or not the schools will offer any informative classes or programs about the new marijuana law.
The new tobacco policy, which was directly mentioned in Spaulding’s letter regarding marijuana policy, outlines the dangers of tobacco use stating that, “Cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths in the United States each year, which includes 42,000 deaths from exposure to secondhand smoke.”

The dangers of secondhand smoke were addressed in the marijuana legalization bill, as well, as it forbids the use of marijuana in any vehicle because of the exposure to and potential intoxication of the vehicle’s operator.

In addition to the large amount of federal funding received for financial aid, the VSC also receive federal funding in the form of grants for various researches by faculty, as well as for Academic Support Services.
“The majority of funding for Academic Support Services comes from a U.S. Department of Education TRiO grant,” said Karen Madden, Director of Academic Support Services. “Every five years we have to apply for a new TRiO grant. It is a very competitive process.” The TRiO grant provides $415,421 to the department.

Madden says there are 235 students in the TRiO program, but the college provides about 25 percent of their total funding to help serve any students on campus who would like academic coaching or other support services.

The department also receives a $12,000 grant from the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation tasked for drop-in coaching.
“I haven’t taken the time to quantify it, but it’s significant,” Spaulding continued. “The biggest one to me is impact, or potential impact, on students’ [financial aid] departments.”
The VSC Chancellor’s office encourages any students who have further questions or concerns to contact their dean of students, Jonathan Davis.

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Chancellor: VSCS not going to pot