By, Kate Robertson
With recreational cannabis legalization on its way to Canada on Oct. 17, 2018, many post-secondary institutions across the country have inked partnerships with licensed marijuana producers, funded research initiatives, and even launched new courses for students interested in joining the burgeoning industry.
But so far, very few campuses north of the border will allow cannabis consumption come legalization. On Sept. 12, 2018, representatives at the University of Alberta were expected to approve all 19 policy recommendations made by its cannabis working group, which include:
- a “small number” of designated areas for smoking or vaping weed on campus
- prohibits consuming, cooking and growing weed indoors
- prohibits consumption at campus events for one year after legalization
- prohibits events sponsored by marijuana companies, and
- emphasizes the importance of harm reduction education.
Under the new Cannabis Act, the rules governing distribution and consumption are left up to each Canadian province or territory to hammer out, and municipalities can institute additional local bylaws or opt out entirely. Alberta will have one of the country’s least-regulated distribution networks: both privately owned and government-run cannabis stores will operate there, and the city of Edmonton, where the U of A is located, will allow for public consumption in some areas.
“Edmonton has one of the more progressive policies around cannabis,” Alix Kemp, a media relations associate at the U of A, told Marijuana.com. “So it isn’t that surprising that the university’s policies would reflect that.”
On the other side of the Canadian Rockies, Vancouver Island’s University of Victoria is expected to approve a similar policy that emphasizes harm reduction and acknowledges that many students, most of whom are young people, use cannabis.
“Our data tell us that 23 percent of our students have consumed cannabis in the past month, so these behaviors are well-entrenched,” Kane Kilbey, associate vice president of human resources, told the Ottawa Citizen on Sept. 10, 2018. “The federal government has made it clear that non-medical cannabis will be legal, just like beer and wine, after Oct. 17. So that’s a fundamental consideration.”
The two universities are in the minority, however. Many college administrators are still considering several issues pertaining to cannabis legalization before signing off on official policies — some of which are working within uncertainty. In Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, new rules overriding the previous government’s cannabis legislation haven’t yet been announced in detail, except to say that online sales via the government will be available by Oct. 17, 2018, and that private storefronts won’t open until April 2019.
An increasing number of campuses are trying a seemingly simpler route: going entirely smoke-free and adding cannabis to the list of products that can’t be combusted in any form or vaped on school property.
McMaster University, with more than 30,000 students, is one of them. Located in Hamilton, Ontario, the school launched the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research in the winter of 2017.
“McMaster’s Tobacco and Smoke-Free Campus eliminates the use of tobacco products and smoking such as cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, mini-cigars, pipes, water pipes, hookah, shisha, and cannabis on any University property,” reads the school’s new smoke-free policy, which was implemented earlier in 2018. “It also includes the use of electronic smoking devices which create an aerosol or vapor, in any manner or in any form, or the use of any oral smoking device.”
While special exemptions are outlined for pyrotechnics and some students, such as those who require burning substances for spiritual purposes, medical cannabis consumers are required to negotiate directly with student services at the school if they need to smoke or vape for health reasons.
“Should a student or staff member have a medical requirement for cannabis, there is an accommodations policy the university provides,” McMaster’s media relations manager Michelle Donovan told Marijuana.com. “This is the same approach we take for a student who requires medical accommodation in the classroom or during exams. Each of these instances will be unique and will be considered on an individual basis.”
Dessy Pavlova, the chair of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, is concerned that asking medical consumers to disclose health issues could be asking for too much personal information. This past spring, the group published “Sensible Cannabis Education: A Toolkit for Educating Youth,” which underlines the importance of evidence-based decision-making and harm reduction when it comes to cannabis policy.
“By prohibiting it, they’re just ensuring that students break their campus policies,” she said, adding that she draws a parallel between prohibiting consumption on campus and prohibition: it just doesn’t work. “The reason why legalization does protect youth is that it takes cannabis use out of basements and into the public sphere. People do this, let’s make sure they do it safely.”