Pullman WA Criminal Defense Attorney

Defending charges of DUI, MIP, drug possession, assaults, felonies, etc.

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WSU, Dorm Searches, and the Right to Privacy in Washington State

College students are never exactly sure where they stand with privacy rights in a dormitory. They are told they are adults and that they are independent, but if they live in university dormitories, there are still certain rules that they have to live by. While I-502 decriminalized marijuana in Washington State, colleges and universities in Washington still have strict rules against marijuana possession. Nowhere is this more true than at Washington State University in Pullman, WA. While alcohol and underage drinking seems to be the biggest threat to the safety of campus safety, the school has still taken a tough line on cannabis in recent weeks.dorm room mip

Despite court decisions supporting the privacy rights of students in dormitories, it is still common for police to roam the halls of college dormitories sniffing for the odor of marijuana. Sometimes this occurs by the police on hands and knees sniffing at the base of the dorm room doors. It seemed that this should have come to an end in 2008 when the Washington State Court of Appeals ruled that it was inappropriate for police to be in the dormitory halls of Washington State University without just cause. However, WSU quickly amended their policy allowing local police in Pullman to enter the dorms for the purposes of such “safety checks.” The current regulation allows police in the common areas of dormitories along with residence hall staff, RAs, RDs, etc. The constitutionality of this has not been ruled on by the appellate courts.

It is common for lawyers to receive phone calls from students who have university staff searching through their desk drawers and personal belongings. While it is important to be polite to the police and college employees, it is also important to know not to consent to any search or to make any statements incriminating yourself. An example of an incriminating statement would be admitting that you knew that the marijuana or alcohol was in your room, or admitting that the marijuana or alcohol was yours. If you have beer in your dorm room refrigerator, it may seem pretty obvious that it is “yours.” However, for a prosecuting attorney to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the beer is yours is another matter. Most dorm rooms have more than one student living there.

It is important for students to avoid having MIP or marijuana possession charges on their record when they graduate.

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College Students & Initiative 502 Marijuana (WSU, Gonzaga, EWU, CWU)

Colleges across Washington are using the “Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Act” to try to intimidate students from exercising their rights under Initiative 502. In reality that federal law is pretty meaningless when it comes to the actions of individual students. Here is a list of each school, and the exaggerations that the schools came up with last week:

Washington State University: “What will change on campus? Essentially nothing. WSU’s policies and regulations prohibiting the use and possession of marijuana on campus and in the workplace remain in effect. These policies must remain in place in order for us to continue to receive federal grants, contracts and funding for financial aid, which are essential for any public university.”

Gonzaga University: “As a condition for receiving federal financial assistance, an institution of higher education must certify that it has adopted and implemented a program to prevent the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of illicit drugs and alcohol by its students and employees on school premises or as part of any of its activities.”

Central Washington University: “Under the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, as a condition of receiving federal funds, universities must certify the adoption and implementation of programs to prevent the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of illicit drugs and alcohol by students and employees. CWU would place at risk more than $93 million in federal funding if the university disregarded federal law and allowed the use of marijuana in university facilities, according to Dr. Sarah Swager, Dean of Student Success.”

Eastern Washington University: “We are subject to the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which says as a condition of receiving those federal funds, we have to certify that we have adopted and implemented a program to prevent the unlawful possession, use or distribution of illicit drugs and alcohol by students and employees—and that includes marijuana.”

The problem with all this bureaucratic legal mumbo jumbo is that it has no basis in reality! If the above statements were really true, then why is it that the University of Colorado doesn’t get in trouble for having enormous, campus-wide, 420 celebrations?

The Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Act is found in 20 U.S.C. 7111, and it requires schools to come up with a policy prohibiting drugs on campus and the workplace. But as we can see from Colorado, there is no law in the country that can require school officials to see something if they choose to turn a blind eye. And despite the above video, University of Colorado Boulder’s school policy provides: “Possessing, using, providing, manufacturing, distributing, or selling drugs or drug paraphernalia in violation of law or university policies are prohibited by the Student Code of Conduct.”   The inference that we can draw is that as long as they have some policy on the books, it really makes no difference if they enforce it.

I have seen some newspapers unquestioningly accept the statements made by WSU, Gonzaga, EWU, and CWU.  In fact, many publications have made it sound like the universities still have the power to keep marijuana possession illegal.  For example, in a UW student newspaper article entitled “I-502 Legalizes Marijuana For State, Not UW Campus“, the writer explains: “The current UW policy states that any use or possession of illicit drugs on the university campus will result in strict penalties including prison time and the loss of federal benefits such as student loans.” However, a university cannot make its own criminal code. If a student were to smoke marijuana in his dorm room, or in the school library, or for that matter right in class, the most the school can do is kick the student out.

Meanwhile, at Eastern Washington University, a campus police detective is still threatening to arrest people for possession of marijuana. A EWU campus news article explained:

According to Detective E. Quincy Burns, anyone caught in possession of marijuana on campus can be arrested and cited.
“We can arrest them for being in possession of a controlled substance,” he said. “If it’s under 40 grams, it’s a gross misdemeanor. If it’s over 40 grams, it’s a felony because then you’re talking most likely the possession with the intent to sell or distribute.”
Burns said there are a lot of details that state and law enforcement officials still need to work out, but the bottom line is that marijuana is not allowed on campus.  “[Marijuana] will not be allowed on the university. That policy has not changed and will not change as far as my understanding goes,” he said. If caught in possession of any amount of marijuana, an offender can be arrested and receive a criminal citation. The offenders could also just receive a citation and not be physically booked into jail but have to appear in court at a later date. According to Commander Rick Campbell, “There is no legal place where marijuana can be purchased until late 2013, so any possession is a violation.” This does not include medical marijuana that already has regulations in place.

There are a lot of factual inaccuracies with what the detective says.  The possession of marijuana under 40 grams was never a “gross misdemeanor.”  Rather it was a simple misdemeanor.  Additionally, he takes the position that only marijuana purchased in a licensed marijuana store is legal. This is incorrect, and is directly contrary to section 20 of the new law.