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Medical pot on campus: Colleges say no and face lawsuits

HARTFORD, Conn. — Colleges are becoming a battleground in the conflict between federal and state marijuana laws as students who use medical pot challenge decades-old campus drug policies.

In states where medical marijuana is legal, students disciplined for using it are taking their schools to court. College officials argue they could lose federal funding for failing to follow federal law that labels cannabis an illegal drug with no accepted medical use.

Sheida Assar said she was expelled from GateWay Community College in Phoenix last month for violating the school’s drug policy after she tested positive for marijuana, which she uses to treat chronic pain from polycystic ovary syndrome.

Ross D. Franklin, The Associated Press

In this Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019 photo, college student, Sheida Assar, poses for a photo in Chandler, Ariz.

She was studying diagnostic medical sonography, Assar said, and an instructor had told her she wouldn’t have any problems if she presented her Arizona medical marijuana card. She typically uses marijuana to help her sleep and had never been under the influence in class, she said.

“They yanked me out of class in the middle of the school day,” said Assar, 31, of Chandler, Arizona. “They escorted me to the administration like I was a … criminal. It’s discrimination, and it also violates my rights under the Arizona medical marijuana law.”

The legal challenges are coming from students studying nursing and other medical specialties who, under school policies, must undergo drug testing.

Assar and other students say they received approval to use medical marijuana from college employees who serve students with health-related needs — only to face discipline from higher-ranking school officials.

Assar said she intends to sue GateWay to recoup the $2,000 she spent on tuition and other educational expenses and seek more money in damages. Her lawyer already has been in contact with the school, she said.

A GateWay spokeswoman, Christine Lambrakis, said that she could not confirm Assar’s status at the school and that the college continues to prohibit marijuana use.

Asked about an Arizona Supreme Court ruling last year that overturned a 2012 state law that made possession or use of marijuana on college campuses a crime, Lambrakis said the school is in the process of reviewing its policies and will not change them in the meantime.