Skip to main content
College Student Defense

Washington, DC Marijuana Laws and Your Rights as a Student

By January 31, 2022September 25th, 2023No Comments

Marijuana laws are tricky. 

At the federal level, marijuana is still illegal, both for medicinal and recreational uses. In some states, it’s legal to use medically, but not recreationally. And in others, it’s legal to use both medically and recreationally. 

But even if marijuana is legal to use, it may be illegal to possess in large amounts, and it may be illegal for individuals to sell. 

Any confusion you may have is completely understandable. But what are your rights if you are found with marijuana as a student?

What’s the deal in DC?

Washington, DC is a special case. 

As the capital city of the U.S., it doesn’t have state laws to follow, and it has its own marijuana laws that are different from federal law. 

The “too long, didn’t read” version of DC’s marijuana law is that it is legal for people over the age of 21 to use marijuana. 

That being said, there are technicalities that need to be explained:

  • Is marijuana legal for both recreational and medicinal use?
    • YES
  • Who can possess and use marijuana in Washington, DC?
    • People 21 or older? YES
    • People under 21? NO
  • What happens to someone under 21 caught with marijuana by DC police? It depends on how much of the drug they have on them.
    • If they have 2 ounces or more, they can be arrested.
    • If they have less than 2 ounces, the marijuana will be seized, but the individual will not be arrested or ticketed.
  • Does that mean that anyone 21 and over can do whatever they want with marijuana? Not quite. In Washington, DC, people 21 or older can:
    • Possess 2 ounces or less of marijuana
    • Give 1 ounce or less of marijuana to someone else who is 21 or older, as long as it is a free gift, with no payment of any kind
    • Possess bongs, rolling papers, and other marijuana paraphernalia that allow for the use of 1 ounce or less of marijuana
    • Use (smoke, ingest, consume, etc.) marijuana while on private property
  • So, what CAN’T people 21 or older do in Washington, DC? In Washington, DC, it is still illegal to:
    • Possess more than 2 ounces of marijuana
    • Sell marijuana to another person
    • Drive a vehicle or boat while under the influence of marijuana
    • Use (smoke, ingest, consume, etc.) marijuana in public spaces

Federal Laws

So, marijuana is legal in DC. However, as mentioned earlier, it is still illegal under federal law.

That means a federal law enforcement officer can arrest anyone for possession or use of marijuana, regardless of:

  • How old they are
  • Where they are possessing or using marijuana
  • How much marijuana they have in their possession
  • Whether the marijuana is for recreational or medical purposes.

Colleges and Cannabis

Though marijuana is generally legal to use in DC if someone is 21 or older, it gets hazy if that person is a college student. 

While a college student in Washington, DC who is 21 or older can legally possess and use small amounts of marijuana on private property, some colleges and universities still have rules against the use and possession of the drug. 

So, if a 22-year-old college senior smokes marijuana on their own property, they cannot legally be arrested by a DC police officer. However, their college or university can still punish them, if their actions violate the rules of that institution. 

These punishments are perfectly legal. As they are individual entities, every college and university can establish and enforce their own policies regarding drug possession and use.

Let’s take a look at the three biggest colleges in DC to see what their policies regarding marijuana are.

  • George Washington University 

Drug use and possession, including marijuana, is not allowed for any George Washington University students. Any student who uses marijuana will face disciplinary action. 

  • Georgetown University

Both medical and recreational marijuana use and possession is forbidden by the code of conduct. 

  • American University

The American University student conduct code does not allow unauthorized use or possession of marijuana by students. No marijuana (medical included) is allowed on university property, including residence halls.

What if marijuana is legal in my state?

As discussed above, college policies are different from laws. So it’s possible to get in trouble for smoking weed on campus, even if you’re not breaking any state or local laws.

If medical or recreational marijuana is legal in your state, and you live off campus, it’s probably safe to use marijuana in your own home, regardless of what your college says.

But if your college has rules against marijuana use –  and almost every college in the country does – you could get in serious academic trouble for smoking on campus, or even coming to campus while high. That includes your dorm room, if you live on campus.

Some colleges may allow exceptions for medical reasons, then again, some may not. For example, Georgetown University explicitly prohibits the use of marijuana for recreational or medical purposes. The best way to find out if your school can accommodate you is to thoroughly read your school’s code of conduct, and speak to an administrator about it.

Contact DC Student Defense if you’re facing penalties for marijuana

While marijuana is legal to use and possess in DC for people 21 or over, colleges and universities in the DC area are free to make their own policies regarding the use and possession of the drug. If you are facing penalties because of their marijuana use, you need an attorney with experience defending students to be in your corner. Contact DC Student Defense today so we can get started on your case. 

These materials have been prepared by Cohen Seglias for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

These materials have been prepared by Cohen Seglias for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

More posts by Shan Wu
Skip to content