Marijuana Is Now Legal in Minnesota. It Will Still Be Banned at Public Colleges.

Federal law prohibits universities receiving federal funds from allowing the possession, use, or distribution of illicit drugs — including cannabis — on campus.
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Published on August 1, 2023
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  • In May, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed legislation legalizing recreational cannabis.
  • Starting Aug. 1, individuals 21 and older will be able to legally purchase, possess, and consume cannabis products.
  • However, due to federal funding, colleges and universities will continue to consider it a controlled substance and ban its use for students of all ages.

Minnesota today becomes the 23rd state in the country to legalize recreational cannabis.

The state's legislation, which passed in the 2023 legislative session and was signed by Gov. Tim Walz in May, allows adults 21 years old or older in the state to possess or transport cannabis paraphernalia, as well as possess or transport two ounces or less in a public place, and two pounds or less in a private residence.

Additionally, the bill language specifies that cannabis consumption is allowed at private residences, including yards, on private property not generally accessible by the public, and at establishments or events where cannabis consumption is permitted.

However, despite state legalization, cannabis remains federally illegal, and the state's public institutions will continue to treat it as a controlled substance, according to University of Minnesota and Minnesota State University officials.

Here's what college students in Minnesota need to know as the state legalizes cannabis.

State vs. 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 Minnesota 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.

"Institutions of higher education, including the University of Minnesota, are required to follow federal cannabis laws," said Julie Sanem, director of health promotion at Boynton Health, which serves the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.

"This means that cannabis possession use, distribution, and growing are all still prohibited on campus and while participating in university activities. Essentially things will remain the same in terms of cannabis use, what is allowed in terms of cannabis use on our campus, even when the state law goes into effect."

Marijuana Will Remain Illegal for Most College Students

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

Minnesota's Department of Agriculture, which is helping to set up the state's new Office of Cannabis Management, said that while guidance may vary from campus to campus, no university will permit students under the legal age to purchase, possess, or consume cannabis.

"Students should be aware first and foremost that the legal age for adult-use consumption or possession is 21. They should check their own college's policies for additional guidance," Allen Sommerfeld, communications director for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, said in a statement to BestColleges.

Dan Benson, director of media relations for Minnesota State University, Mankato, echoed a similar sentiment.

"Minnesota State University, Mankato has been a tobacco-free and smoke-free campus since 2011," he said. "Since the new law states users must be 21 years of age, a large proportion of our campus population wouldn't be able to legally use or possess marijuana."

No Cannabis on Campus

College students who are 21 years old and older are allowed to purchase and possess cannabis products under the new Minnesota 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.

Those wanting to take advantage of the new law would also have to abide by rules set by landlords and property managers. While the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act does not prohibit smoking in individual apartment units, property managers have the power to restrict smoking for the property and ban smoking in individual rental units.

However, students should check their campuses' policies to see if they are more or less restrictive.

"As we celebrate Minnesota's significant step forward in the legalization of adult-use cannabis, and until we can issue additional guidance, we urge students to be aware of the policies that are in effect at the institution they attend," said Sommerfeld.

Sanem said the University of Minnesota will not be changing its guidance related to cannabis, including its drug-free policy, and student code of conduct, both of which apply to students across all five university campuses, and is planning to communicate relevant information to students through official university communication channels.

"The University of Minnesota is committed to supporting the health and safety and promoting the success of students and to help students navigate changes related to cannabis legalization in Minnesota," she said. "We plan to clearly and regularly communicate and connect students with appropriate resources."