Recreational Marijuana Use for International Students: Rights and Risks

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H. Beck

An illustration depicting marijuana leaves and alcohol bottles. The consumption of illicit substances is up in the air for many international students.

Nino Paoli, News Contributor

Possession and use of recreational marijuana for those age 21 and older was legalized in Oregon on July 1, 2015, but this incongruity between state and federal law creates a gray area for international students at Oregon State University.

International students are required to abide by federal law, which still outlaws marijuana. However, with a State ID, driver’s license or medical marijuana card, all obtainable for those who aren’t citizens of the United States but have established Oregon residence, international students 21 and older are able to purchase marijuana from a recreational retailer.

Although, the repercussions of international students’ recreational use of marijuana in Oregon can spell trouble when traveling home to their countries of origin, depending on certain countries’ laws on marijuana use, and upon returning to the U.S.

Though recreational use of marijuana is legal in Oregon, for all college students that attend federally-funded universities such as OSU, possession, use and distribution is all strictly prohibited in all OSU campuses and facilities, as well as all OSU-run activities.

Additionally, international students are expected to abide by federal law, which would make possession and use of marijuana illegal for them even in places off-campus at any time. 

The US Drug Enforcement Administration lists marijuana along with drugs such as heroin and cocaine as a Schedule 1 drug, which the DEA claims are drugs with high potential for abuse and little to no medical benefit. So, while marijuana is legal in Oregon, that doesn’t mean it is legal for international students. 

Rachael Weber, the assistant director in the Office of International Services, empathizes with international students in regards to the mixed messages they are receiving about marijuana use. 

“[One message] is saying it’s okay as a state law, but marijuana is still illegal nationally,” Weber said. “It is confusing for many students.”

A place for international students — and any OSU students —  for legal advice and counsel with no extra cost is the Student Legal Services, which is offered through Associated Students of Oregon State University. Staff attorney with the Student Legal Service Office Noah Chamberlain says the risks of marijuana use for international students are much steeper than U.S. citizens.

“While [international students] may still be able to legally purchase recreational marijuana here, we advise and encourage students to recognize that there may be collateral consequences to their decisions.” Chamberlain said. “Either upon their return home or if they were to somehow violate the state law.”

Chamberlain says the impacts of international students getting caught using marijuana can vary vastly, from small consequences on the state level to consequences back home or when returning to the U.S.

“Even though you are here, do not operate under the assumption that your actions and behavior here don’t have the possibility of following you home,” Chamberlain said. “If you’ve been cited criminally [for marijuana use or possession], that can have an impact on your student visa in the future.”

When entering a U.S. airport or border from a location abroad non-U.S. citizens can have social media accounts, texts and emails subject to search. There are multiple stories of non-citizens admitting to using marijuana in the U.S. in the past when asked by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, only to be banned from entering the U.S. 

Regarding the risk of deportation of an international student at OSU for using marijuana, Chamberlain said that each case is fact-driven and contextual.

“Any violation of federal law could result in collateral consequences to that student’s eligibility to either remain in the country, to return to the country, depending on circumstances,” Chamberlain said.

A fourth-year international student from Vietnam explained that even though they are 21, they haven’t experimented with marijuana.

“It is actually the legal consequences of marijuana use that [dissuades] a lot of international students from using it,” the student said. 

They say that in Vietnam it is illegal to buy, sell, use, transport and possess marijuana, and that the sale and purchase of marijuana is an act that constitutes the crime of illegal drug trafficking, which is severely punished by law. They do admit that they would try marijuana if they had the chance to. 

Chamberlain points out that there are many other issues that international students come to Student Legal Services with, which also affect them differently than U.S. citizens. 

“Whether we are talking about the use of recreational marijuana or alcohol consumption or even something as mundane as a driver’s license, insurance, car ownership, those sorts of things I highly encourage students to seek out [Student Legal Services],” Chamberlain said. 

Chamberlain also says his advice can be applicable to anyone.

“I would say the same thing to any U.S. citizen wanting to travel abroad,” Chamberlain said. “You need to be aware of what the laws are where you’re going, and what’s prohibited and what’s permitted; and that if you break the law while traveling, there can be consequences for you.”