Colorado colleges and universities have seen a dramatic jump in applications, including from out of state, following the legalization of marijuana, but officials insist there’s no drug connection.
Applications to the University of Colorado are up 30 percent since Amendment 64 made recreational pot legal, according to Director of Admissions Kevin MacLennan. But while several marijuana advocates told FoxNews.com it is hardly surprising that the Centennial State would become a mecca for college-bound tokers, MacLennan disagrees.
“We aren’t getting a lot of questions about this,” MacLennan said, referring to the new law.
He said a better explanation for the rise in applications is increased recruitment at high schools across the country and abroad and the university’s adoption of the Common Application, which facilitates students’ ability to apply to multiple schools around the nation using a single form.
Colorado College has also seen a rise in applications, but Mark Hatch, vice president for enrollment, said it is part of a longer-term trend.
“This year is no different, so there is no evidence that our increase [is tied] to Amendment 64,” Hatch told FoxNews.com in an email.
Hatch fears the new pot law could actually be a drag on applications, as out-of-state parents reject the idea of their tuition money going up in smoke.
But both students and marijuana advocates say graduates looking to experience Rocky Mountain high is not such a bad thing.
“I don’t know that students would apply here solely because of the new law, but if they were choosing between two comparable schools, I could see them choosing University of Colorado because of that,” said Kathryn Krempasky, a 21-year-old senior from Denver.
Kate Brickley, a 22-year-old senior at University of Colorado, from Oakland, California, agreed. “Some of the kids I’ve talked to back home think it’s a big deal, like ‘Oh my god, you can smoke legally,’” she said.
Parents don’t like to admit it, but students going off to college to party is hardly new. Rachel Gillette, executive director of the Colorado chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said smoking pot in college has an appeal for students similar to drinking.
“I can see how Amendment 64 could be an incentive for some prospective students to apply to college in the State of Colorado,” Gillette said. “From a college student’s perspective, we can analogize it to alcohol. Young people do appreciate freedom.”
But incoming freshman would be wise to read up on the state law, which went into full effect Jan. 1, 2014, and to learn campus rules as well. The law forbids marijuana possession by anyone under 21, and all colleges and universities in the state have policies forbidding use or possession on campus. And many localities -- including Colorado Springs, where Colorado College is located -- have banned the sale of marijuana for recreational use.
In addition to their own codes of conduct, Colorado schools are citing the Controlled Substances Act, the Drug-Free Workplace Act, and the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act as federal statutes that prohibit marijuana’s use on their campuses. In a “frequently asked questions” section of its website, Colorado College also notes that a federal drug-related conviction could render students ineligible for federal financial aid.
“I have a hard time believing that someone is going to make that kind of significant decision about investing in their education based on whether they can smoke marijuana in the state,” said Mike Hooker, spokesman for Colorado State University, located in Fort Collins. “There may be some water cooler talk about what effect Amendment 64 might have, but we believe there are more significant factors that drive enrollment decisions.”
University of Denver has seen an 81 percent increase in the number of applicants over the past five years, according to spokesman Will Jones. He rejected the idea that the new law played a role, but acknowledged the school has gotten calls from parents outside the state who have asked about its pot policy. He tells them marijuana is just as forbidden on campus now as it was a year ago.
“Even with passage of Amendment 64, there will be no change in policy,” Jones said.
It’s not clear what concerns those parents could be expressing, however. Clearly, many parents don’t want their kids smoking pot, but others may be resigned to it, said NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre.
“In a Hobson’s choice-type way, parents might be chagrined by their child’s marijuana use but still prefer that the child go to school in a state where it is legal as opposed to a state where the child will be punished and face the entire loss of their investment in a college education,” he said. “There can be a really cogent argument that it could be an incentive to apply to schools where marijuana use is legal and students are not considered criminals.”