Polis, CU President Tussle Over Pot Law

December 12, 2012

Benson warned of steep financial consequences if the university system did not comply with the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Jared Polis decried an email that University of Colorado President Bruce D. Benson sent to alumni last week about the possibility of its four campuses losing federal funding if marijuana is permitted to be smoked there.

In two messages on his Twitter account, the Boulder Democrat tweeted that Benson’s email was “false” and “misleading.”

One Polis Tweet quoted from Benson’s statement that the school stands to lose significant federal funding if it violates a 1989 federal anti-drug law.

“FALSE. Nothing in Amend64 requires CU let marijuana on campus,” Polis wrote.

Elected to a third term last month, Polis, 38, has been an outspoken advocate for gay issues, public education funding, and opposition to the Iraq War.

Benson’s email warned of steep financial consequences if the university system did not comply with the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act by failing to ban marijuana on its campuses.

“Marijuana threatens to cost the university nearly a billion dollars annually in federal revenue, money we can ill afford to lose,” Benson wrote, noting the system brings in $800 million in federal research funds and $100 million in student financial aid each year.

Benson was an opponent of Amendment 64, the successful state initiative that legalizes the consumption and possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and older. As the head of a university system with tens of thousands of undergraduate and graduate students, the 74 year old has sought to counter the impression that its flagship campus, at Boulder, is a haven for pot smokers, taking steps to shut down an annual smoke-out event at the vast campus last April.

Benson, who also has a Twitter account, did not respond to Polis’ tweets.

The contretemps between a university president and a member of Congress generated many stories and comments in the mainstream press and on social media; it was reminiscent of tussles in the late 1960s and early 1970s when faculty members criticized university presidents for their remarks and positions on the Vietnam War.

But Polis’ tweets and Benson’s message are not necessarily at loggerheads. One Polis tweet said that Benson’s message stated that “CU risks federal funding because of Amend64.”

In fact, Benson’s email did not say the system would lose funding because of the mere fact that marijuana use would be legal in Colorado. It implied the university system needed to prohibit marijuana to not lose federal funding.

“We are not only within our rights to ban marijuana on our campuses, it is the right thing to do,” Benson wrote.

It is true that Amendment 64 allows schools to ban or regulate marijuana.

In section 6D, the initiative states, “Nothing in this section shall prohibit a person, employer, school, hospital, detention facility, corporation or any other entity who occupies, owns or controls a property from prohibiting or otherwise regulating the possession, consumption, use, display, transfer, distribution, sale, transportation, or growing of marijuana on or in that property.”

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