OSU students find relief in medical marijuana

Man Smoking Marijuana Weed Cigarettes Smoke (copy) (copy)

Although Oklahoma State University doesn't allow marijuana, medical or recreational, on campus, some OSU students find relief from anxiety and depression by smoking.

Andrew Johnston couldn’t focus on his finals.

Going nearly 96 hours without sleep, how could he?

A junior at Oklahoma State University, he found himself staring off at the wall of the lecture hall he was in. The off-white, chipped paint was entrancing. Then it was someone’s orange hoodie. Then it was someone’s backpack. His pencils.

Then, time was up. Another final left unfinished.

Johnston suffers from depression, social anxiety and insomnia, insomnia being the ailment he has the most difficulty controlling.

“My mind wouldn’t shut off,” Johnston said. “Constant thoughts were running. I was always worried about something. It wasn’t anything big, it was always something little that would randomly pop up in the back of my head.

“Medical marijuana helped me finally get some sleep.”

On June 26, 2018, about 507,000 Oklahomans voted “yes” on State Question 788, legalizing medical marijuana in the state.

This left universities in a tricky situation. Being federally financed, Oklahoma State University cannot allow its students, faculty, staff or visitors to have marijuana of any kind on campus or it could lose its federal financing.

This has not stopped some people from needing to use on campus.

Dylan Davis used to wake up at the crack of noon before going to class. Walking to class, Davis struggled to keep focused on the day ahead. Every car that went by, he had to know where it was. Every person he heard talking, he had to find out what he or she was talking about.

Davis used to have at least three panic attacks a day because of his paranoia.

Class was impossible to get through. Big groups of people he doesn’t know puts him on edge, Davis said.

The antidepressants and antianxiety medication never worked. The side effects were too much to handle.

Even food used to be difficult to eat because of the anxiety he suffered.

“Now I wake up, I smoke and go through the exact same routine, now with just a different level of comfortability,” Davis said.

Davis said he has smoked on campus before to ease the paranoia of going through the day.

“It’s a risk,” Davis said. “I don’t recommend it, but it helped me get through my day.”

Cpt. Colt Chandler, of the Oklahoma State University Police Department, said it is the goal of the Oklahoma State University Police Department to provide a safe environment for all of campus.

“We understand people have medical marijuana needs, and we support that,” Chandler said. “However, we try to ensure those people are educated in a sense of what they are allowed to do on campus.”

If an officer encounters marijuana on campus, then the course of action varies depending on the circumstance. Typically, the first step is to determine whether a person is in possession of marijuana.

“If they present a (medical marijuana) card, then we will honor that card and try to find a way to remove the federal contraband from the campus,” Chandler said. “We try to work with that patient and Res Life and other people to see if we can find another avenue of keeping the medical marijuana off campus.”

OSUPD uses Lexipol Management to guide its policy for managing marijuana usage on campus.

Res Life is the main way OSU police find out about marijuana usage on campus. Typically, this process starts when someone on campus, usually a community mentor, detects the odor of marijuana. LeAnne Hutchins, Res Life’s coordinator for student success, said Res Life instructs its Community Mentors to contact OSU police whenever they have the suspicion of marijuana on campus.

“They will make that phone call, and then they will wait until the police come,” Hutchins said. “They will also make sure they call up their chain of command, so they would go to their assistant resident community educator and let them know.”

The university’s policy on marijuana, medical or not, is Res Life’s policy

OSU police will arrive on the scene and try to determine where the odor is coming from. If it can be verified where the odor is coming from, police will then make contact with the resident and try to determine what the purpose of the odor is. If it is nonmedical, then state charges will be followed up as usual.

The state legislature looks at state medicinal marijuana encounters at the physical point of encounter. So, if a person has marijuana and claim it is medical, yet is not registered for a medicinal card, then going afterward and registering for a card does not expunge that person from the crime possibly committed.

It is common for Community Mentors to look the other way when encountering marijuana on campus, multiple sources said. Some will give their residents warnings to put the marijuana away before the police are called. Others said, unless they get a complaint, they won’t do anything.

Police officers, if the offense is a misdemeanor, have the discretion of whether to arrest.

Chandler said OSUPD’s policy is appropriate and applicable to the situation.

“I think in the long term some case law will help set precedent of what is expected, but until then, we just have to take it on a case-by-case basis and make sure we’re doing it the best we can given the circumstances we are facing,” Chandler said.

The loosely written nature of State Question 788 leaves some of the procedure around medicinal marijuana tricky.

“(State Question 788) allows people to acknowledge they have a medical use for (marijuana), which results in a simple $400 fine,” Chandler said. “If you can’t provide a medical marijuana card but you have a stated medical marijuana use, we would still seize that marijuana and follow up with the $400 fine. The only time we can allow someone to keep their medical marijuana is if they are in the possession of their card or we can verify they have a valid license.”

Medical marijuana doesn’t always have positive effects. Sometimes, if the user becomes too high, the opposite happens.

“If I get too high, (my paranoia) gets even worse,” Davis said.

Johnston experiences the same issues if he accidentally gets too high. His insomnia gets worse.

“I have had a couple of times where weed has not actually put me to sleep, it just made my mind race more,” Johnston said. “But that usually only happens when I accidentally buy the wrong strand.”

Johnston also said his tolerance for the effects of marijuana has gone up, so he will have to take tolerance breaks every once in a while. During these breaks his insomnia, anxiety and depression symptoms become much worse.

Regardless of this policy and these possible negative effects, it has not stopped students from attempting to get their medical marijuana cards.

Kellen Carter, a junior at Oklahoma State University, is working to get his medicinal card. He considered the need for one while watching the trees and road zoom by him out the window of his old white truck.

Seventy, 80, 90 mph.

He needed the time to think. To figure himself out.

Carter decided it was time to turn his car around once he realized he reached Northwest Arkansas.

Three consecutive days on the road can be taxing on the mind. The miles traveled were countless.

Carter said he suffered a complete mental breakdown, realizing he had no idea who he was as a person, masking his emotions all his life.

“I never really (developed) a personality,” Carter said. “I made one from scratch to wear. Finally, that mask broke and that fun existential dread set in.”

Carter suffers from anxiety and depression.

“I wake up, and I am immediately assaulted by how much I have to do in a day,” Carter said.

To Carter, eating, grades and financial stability are on the same level of importance. Whenever he has to go anywhere, he feels he is constantly being watched or judged even though he said he knows in his rational brain people don’t really care.

The antidepressants and antianxiety medication never worked.

He can’t sleep because he is constantly worried about what he needs to do in the future.

He never has the time to think about himself.

Yet, Carter has found THC in marijuana absolutely helps him remain grounded. He does not have his medical marijuana card, but he would like to have one as soon as possible.

“Being able to have something to just slow me down so I can think rationally would make so many things so much easier,” Carter said.

To those who need it, the importance of medical marijuana cannot be understated, but Davis understands the need to be smart when using medical marijuana.

“(Marijuana) can make it very easy to get distracted or to fall behind,” Davis said.

Johnston understands how important it is for students to have access to medical marijuana if it is prescribed to them, even moving off campus to ensure he is able to use the medicine prescribed to him.

“It’s medicine,” Johnston said. “There is an actual pharmacy on campus that gives students depression medicine and anxiety medicine, medicine that can have long term effects on people, yet I can’t use my medicine on campus.”