Marijuana Will Soon Be Legal in Maryland. It Will Still Be Banned at Public Colleges.

Despite state legalization, cannabis remains federally illegal, and the state's public institutions will continue to treat it as a controlled substance.
portrait of Margaret Attridge
Margaret Attridge
Read Full Bio


Margaret Attridge is a news reporter for BestColleges focusing on higher education news stories in California. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in May 2022 with a BA in journalism and government and politics....
Published on June 28, 2023
Edited by
portrait of Darlene Earnest
Darlene Earnest
Read Full Bio

Editor & Writer

Darlene Earnest is a copy editor for BestColleges. She has had an extensive editing career at several news organizations, including The Virginian-Pilot and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She also has completed programs for editors offered by the D...
Learn more about our editorial process
Image Credit: John T. Consoli / University of Maryland

  • Last November, Maryland voters approved a referendum legalizing adult-use cannabis.
  • Starting July 1, individuals 21 and older will be able to legally purchase, possess, and consume cannabis products.
  • However, the plant remains federally illegal, and since public institutions take federal funding, they will continue to consider it a controlled substance and ban its use for students of all ages.

Maryland is the latest state to legalize adult-use marijuana. But adults on the campuses of the state's public universities will still be banned from possessing or using it.

Under a referendum that voters approved last November, Marylanders 21 and older, starting July 1, will be able to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis with an additional removal of criminal penalties for possession of up to 2.5 ounces. Residents will also be allowed to grow up to two plants for personal use.

State regulators have approved nearly 100 dispensaries to sell adult-use cannabis starting July 1, according to The Baltimore Sun.

But because it remains federally illegal, University System of Maryland students 21 and older will still be banned from possessing or using marijuana on campus, university officials told BestColleges.

Here's what college students in Maryland need to know as the state prepares to legalize marijuana.

Maryland Law at Odds With Federal Law

While 23 states have legalized adult-use cannabis and 38 allow medical use, the plant remains federally illegal under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. That law classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance, alongside heroin and ecstasy, and prohibits its use on federal land.

Likewise, the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act requires all colleges and universities that receive federal funds to prohibit the unlawful possession, use, or distribution of illicit drugs and alcohol by students and employees on school premises or as part of any of its activities.

All public colleges and universities in Maryland receive federal funds under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, making cannabis illegal on campus and in university-affiliated housing, regardless of the individual's age, officials confirmed to BestColleges.

Marijuana Will Remain Illegal for Most College Students

Individuals under 21 may not possess or use non-medical cannabis under Maryland law.

According to the Maryland Cannabis Administration, possession of 2.5 ounces or less is considered a civil use amount and may result in a fine, drug education programming, and/or a referral for treatment of a substance-use disorder. Possession of more than 2.5 ounces may result in criminal penalties.

Tia Lewis, director of the Office of Communications and Outreach for the Maryland Cannabis Administration, told BestColleges that most college students will fall under this category.

Cannabis purchase, possession, and consumption remain against the law for individuals under the age of 21, which encompasses a large portion of college/university students, she said.

Individuals under the age of 21 who are found possessing/consuming cannabis can be fined and/or referred to drug education programs and/or treatment for substance use-disorder.

No Cannabis on Campus

College students who are 21 years old and older are allowed to purchase and possess cannabis products under the new Maryland law, however, they must restrict use to non-university private property.

College dorms, university-owned apartments, and non-privately owned fraternity and sorority housing are considered university property, which would make cannabis possession and use illegal, even for adults of legal age.

Additionally, university-sponsored events off-campus and campus-affiliated activities, even where alcohol is being consumed legally, would bar the use and possession of cannabis.

Cannabis use can also be restricted by property managers in rented units and falls under the Maryland Clean Indoor Air Act, which prohibits smoking in all indoor public places in the state, including bars and restaurants. Currently, Maryland law does not allow cannabis to be smoked in indoor or outdoor public places, Lewis says, and that will remain the case after July 1.

The Code of Student Conduct at the University of Maryland (UMD), the state's largest higher education institution, prohibits the unauthorized distribution, production, or possession of controlled substances and illegal drugs.

Students and employees at the University of Maryland are subject to federal, state, and local laws for the possession and distribution of illegal drugs, it reads. Federal law states that it is unlawful to possess controlled substances including cannabis … and compliance with Maryland State … cannabis laws is not a legal defense to a violation of federal law.

In an emailed statement, the University of Maryland says its drug use policy won't change after July 1.

The university plans on communicating with the campus community to inform them that although the state law is changing to permit the personal use of cannabis to people who meet specific criteria, UMD's policy will not change, as required by federal guidelines.

Expect Marijuana Messaging Targeting Maryland College Students

The Maryland Cannabis Administration has not yet reached out directly to colleges, Lewis said, but it is coordinating with the Maryland Department of Health to develop campaigns that address topics for safe, responsible use and prevention for individuals under 21 years of age.

Colleges will be a target population for back to school in the fall, she said.

The University of Maryland Office of Student Conduct has started posting graphics on social media to spread the word about the new cannabis policies and what won't be allowed on campus.

Even with the new law coming up in Maryland, cannabis is not allowed on campus, the post read. We are a smoke- and drug-free campus per federal mandate.