Many Canadian universities’ policies on legal cannabis too restrictive: advocates

Meredith MacLeod – CTVNews.ca – Oct 9, 2018
Many universities across the country are banning any use of cannabis on campus, a move advocates say is too restrictive with marijuana legalization just around the corner.

Some campuses, including the University of British Columbia and a campus of the University of Alberta, are allowing smoking and vaping of cannabis in designated areas once consumption is legalized on Oct. 17.

And the University of New Brunswick and the University of Waterloo are banning smoking of marijuana but will allow students living in residence to make and eat cannabis oil-infused edibles.

But these universities are in the minority, with most enacting policies that prohibit any use of cannabis anywhere on campus, including dorm rooms.

Gracie Laviolette, a second-year student at the University of Ottawa who doesn’t smoke cannabis, says campuses should be considered a professional setting.

“You can’t smoke cannabis at your job, so I don’t think you should really be able to smoke it here as well.”

That thinking is shared by the leadership at her university, which is outlawing the use of all forms of cannabis for students, faculty and staff.

But universities should not be continuing the “misguided prohibition” of cannabis that has been enforced by governments until now, says Zach Walsh, a psychology professor at UBC.

Young people in Canada are among the most frequent users of cannabis in the world and are “generally doing quite well,” he said.

“What’s important to keep in mind is that we have some really healthy, productive, active young people who are also using cannabis and they’re doing it now, they’ve been doing it before legalization and they’re certainly going to continue to do it after.”

Walsh, who studies the use of cannabis in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, says some students report using cannabis over alcohol because they feel that it’s safer, it doesn’t cause hangovers and they feel they are less likely to get into accidents or do something they regret. He says students say they choose alcohol over cannabis because it’s legal and they can consume it socially and in public.

“I think we can expect that once cannabis is legal, if students are allowed a place to congregate and use it, they may use it instead of alcohol.”

That will improve campus health and safety, says Walsh, because things like accidents and fights are often related to binge drinking and excessive alcohol use. Bars on campuses are “incentivizing a more dangerous substance and prohibiting something that could ultimately lead to public health gains if it’s used as an alternative.”

Kira London-Nadeau, a board member of the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, also says campus-wide bans on cannabis are too restrictive. In an effort to protect non-cannabis users from second-hand smoke and from being subjected to impaired users, she says universities aren’t accommodating students who will want to legally use cannabis.

She says recent data indicate about one-third of people aged 15 to 24 have used cannabis in the previous three months.

“If you are going to protect non-users, then you also need to protect users by giving them spaces to consume,” said London-Nadeau, a master’s student at the University of Montréal. Consumption lounges – just like campus bars – would allow students to use a soon-to-be legal product without breaking campus rules, while also allowing for opportunities to share health and safety information about cannabis use, she said.

London-Nadeau says she’s hopeful that advocacy and a reduction in stigma around cannabis will lead to a loosening of campus restrictions.

Many universities contacted by CTV News are still working out their cannabis policies.

James O’Hara, president and CEO of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana, says colleges and universities must accommodate the use of marijuana for students with medical licences.

“They need to enable access and acknowledge that there is definitely a need from a medical patient point of view. Then, if they like, if there are certain areas that they don’t want people consuming in, then by all means set up specific areas that medical cannabis patients can consume in.”

He said medical marijuana patients are “fairly flexible” as long there is somewhere they can administer their medicine on a regular basis.

Here is what some universities contacted by CTV News had to share about their cannabis policies:

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