Mar­i­juana Stu­dents sounds off on le­gal­iza­tion

What stu­dents want from On­tario’s pot leg­is­la­tion


When the Lib­er­als in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana for recre­ational use this past spring, it was wel­come news for many univer­sity and col­lege stu­dents, since Statis­tics Canada found that 33 per cent of 18-to-24-year-olds used mar­i­juana in 2012.

But most uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges aren’t com­ment­ing on how le­gal­iza­tion of recre­ational pot use next July might im­pact cam­puses. Ad­min­is­tra­tors are still think­ing about it, but stu­dent groups al­ready have their own ideas. Spokes­peo­ple for Ry­er­son say that con­ver­sa­tions are “on­go­ing,” while the Univer­sity of Toronto has con­vened a work­ing group to con­sider the is­sue. In a state­ment, Meg Houghton, Hum­ber Col­lege’s Di­rec­tor of Stu­dent Ac­cess, Well­ness and De­vel­op­ment, says that ad­min­is­tra­tors are start­ing to pre­pare for the im­pli­ca­tions of le­gal­iza­tion on cam­pus, par­tic­u­larly as it pertains to stu­dent health.

On Septem­ber 8, On­tario premier Kath­leen Wynne an­nounced the prov­ince would re­strict mar­i­juana sales to 150 LCBO-run shops and limit con­sump­tion to pri­vate homes – mean­ing smok­ing in any pub­lic space will be il­le­gal. As with booze, the age of ma­jor­ity will be 19.

The sit­u­a­tion is dif­fer­ent south of the bor­der. Al­though le­gal­iza­tion in Colorado and Ore­gon posed sim­i­lar con­cerns for ad­min­is­tra­tors, both states made 21 the le­gal age of con­sent for pot. Con­se­quently, most stu­dents are too young to use mar­i­juana legally. Even for those 21 and over, mar­i­juana re­mains il­le­gal un­der U.S. fed­eral law and con­cerns over fed­eral fund­ing have led uni­ver­si­ties to con­tinue pro­hibit­ing its use on cam­pus.

“The bot­tom line is, for the fed­eral govern­ment, mar­i­juana is still il­le­gal, so that trumps state law be­cause we get fed­eral fund­ing,” Erin Fo­ley, dean of stu­dents at the Ore­gon In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy said.

Spokes­peo­ple for the Univer­sity of Colorado Boul­der, one of the state’s largest pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties, stress that le­gal­iza­tion hasn’t af­fected their poli­cies, which pro­hibit the use, pos­ses­sion and dis­tri­bu­tion of mar­i­juana, in­clud­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana. The Univer­sity of Am­s­ter­dam, the largest univer­sity in the Nether­lands, also pro­hibits mar­i­juana use on its cam­puses.

Recre­ational use aside, ac­tivists as­so­ci­ated with the group Cana­dian Stu­dents for Sen­si­ble Drug Pol­icy (CSSDP) hope of­fi­cials will take stu­dents’ views into con­sid­er­a­tion when it comes to health cov­er­age, med­i­cal mar­i­juana and pot-re­lated cour­ses. CSSDP is a grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tion work­ing to pro­mote pos­i­tive drug poli­cies, par­tic­u­larly as they per­tain to youth.

Last Septem­ber, CSSDP worked with a task force on mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion at a round­table en­ti­tled, Youth Speak: Cannabis Le­gal­iza­tion in the 21st Cen­tury.

Rec­om­men­da­tions in­cluded the cre­ation of cannabis ed­u­ca­tion that con­sid­ers youth in­put, per­mit­ting home cul­ti­va­tion of cannabis and pro­hibit­ing cannabis dis­tri­bu­tion along­side al­co­hol, which ex­perts main­tain can ex­ac­er­bate pub­lic health con­cerns. (On­tario in­tends to sell weed in stand­alone shops.) The CSSDP is also work­ing with Cana­di­ans for Fair Ac­cess to Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana to help stu­dents get med­i­cal cannabis cov­er­age through their stu­dent health pro­grams.

Cannabis is pro­hib­ited on cam­puses, but there has been some ac­com­mo­da­tion for med­i­cal mar­i­juana us­age, which is al­ready le­gal in On­tario.

Since 2001, U of T’s Trin­ity Col­lege in­cluded a room for a (now re­tired) pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy to med­i­cate in. How­ever, such ac­com­mo­da­tion isn’t com­mon on most cam­puses.

Jenna Val­le­ri­ani, a strate­gic ad­vi­sor for CSSDP, says that, in ad­di­tion to ac­com­mo­dat­ing stu­dents’ med­i­cal mar­i­juana use, schools must de­velop “clear poli­cies and pro­ce­dures sur­round­ing cannabis use in place be­fore le­gal­iza­tion” that rec­og­nize “like al­co­hol use, young peo­ple will likely still use cannabis – both on cam­pus and off of it – re­gard­less of the rules.

“Any type of reper­cus­sions should be sim­i­lar or equiv­a­lent in sever­ity to how they ap­proach al­co­hol use, rather than an il­licit drug,” she adds.

In­tro­duc­ing cour­ses that cater to Canada’s boom­ing cannabis in­dus­try might be the most sur­pris­ing – and least con­sid­ered – way that le­gal­iza­tion can re­shape mar­i­juana’s role on cam­puses.

Heather D’Alessio, an Al­go­nquin Col­lege stu­dent and a mem­ber of CSSDP’s board of di­rec­tors who has done projects on busi­ness man­age­ment and en­trepreneur­ship in the cannabis in­dus­try, sees schools as an in­cu­ba­tor for an emerg­ing sec­tor.

“One of the biggest things for le­gal­iza­tion is that it’s go­ing to cre­ate a lot of jobs and we want peo­ple to be trained,” she says.

Some of th­ese cour­ses al­ready ex­ist. Val­le­ri­ani teaches a pop­u­lar so­ci­ol­ogy course at U of T on mar­i­juana pol­icy. In 2015, Bri­tish Columbia’s Kwantlen Poly­tech­nic Univer­sity launched on­line cour­ses to train stu­dents for work in the med­i­cal mar­i­juana in­dus­try. So far, they don’t have plans to ad­dress recre­ational use.

But Val­le­ri­ani is see­ing more and more schools rec­og­nize the need to train peo­ple for the cannabis in­dus­try.

“Peo­ple are rec­og­niz­ing that their skills are needed and val­ued in the in­dus­try, like lawyers, mar­ket­ing, so­cial me­dia, etc,” she says. “I’m see­ing more of this in the sciences, for sure, and more peo­ple are en­ter­ing the in­dus­try with a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent skills.”

In the mean­time, she says “an open mind and healthy dis­cus­sion” will ul­ti­mately help uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges nav­i­gate any chal­lenges that le­gal­iza­tion might bring.

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