U ni ver si­ties must pre­pa­re for le­ga­li­za tion of pot…

Stu­dents need real in­for­ma­tion that avoids both sca­re tac­tics and blan­ket reas­su­ran­ces ba­sed on un­re­pre­sen­ta­ti­ve anec­do­tes

La Jornada (Canada) - - PORTADA -

Ma­ri­jua­na will be­co­me le­gal in Ca­na­da on Oct. 17. So­me stu­dents can hardly wait but are their uni­ver­si­ties ready?

In cu­rri­cu­lar terms, the ins­ti­tu­tio­nal res­pon­se has been im­pres­si­ve.

Many Ca­na­dian uni­ver­si­ties ha­ve al­ready be­gun new cour­ses to pre­pa­re their stu­dents to th­ri­ve in the can­na­bis in­dustry, which is ex­pec­ted to grow li­ke a weed post-le­ga­li­za­tion. For ins­tan­ce, Kwantlen Poly­tech­nic Uni­ver­sity, in Bri­tish Co­lum­bia, has lin­ked up with the fe­de­ral go­vern­ment’s Na­tio­nal Ins­ti­tu­te for Can­na­bis Health and Edu­ca­tion to of­fer an online cour­se on the pro­duc­tion and mar­ke­ting of ma­ri­jua­na.

So far, about 1,200 stu­dents ha­ve com­ple­ted the eight-week di­plo­ma. No doubt ou­treach pro­grams will soon be sprin­ging up in shop­ping malls across the pro­vin­ce.

It’s less clear, ho­we­ver, that uni­ver­si­ties are ade­qua­tely pre­pa­red for the inevi­ta­ble in­crea­se in can­na­bis use among stu­dents.

Even wit­hout the im­mi­nent le­ga­li­za­tion, mo­re Ca­na­dians ha­ve been using can­na­bis. Ac­cor­ding to Sta­tis­tics Ca­na­da, use of the drug has mo­re than dou­bled sin­ce 1985; in 2015, 28 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds ad­mit­ted to ha­ving used it.

So­me Ca­na­dian cam­pu­ses plan to im­po­se blan­ket bans on the smo­king of both to­bac­co and can­na­bis. This is in li­ne with U.S. prac­ti­ce. Even the most liberal ins­ti­tu­tions in the ni­ne sta­tes in which can­na­bis has been le­ga­li­zed, such as the Uni­ver­sity of Ca­li­for­nia, don’t allow stu­dents to smo­ke pot on their cam­pu­ses be­cau­se the drug re­mains ille­gal un­der fe­de­ral law. Vio­la­ting that law would im­pe­ril ins­ti­tu­tions’ fe­de­ral fun­ding.

But Ca­na­dian uni­ver­si­ties ha­ve a choi­ce. It’s one that re­qui­res a ca­re­ful con­si­de­ra­tion of the evi­den­ce around the ef­fects of can­na­bis and an ho­nest ap­prai­sal of what po­licy stan­ces seem reaso­na­ble and en­for­cea­ble in a per­mis­si­ve era.

The po­si­ti­ve spin that ad­vo­ca­tes put on smo­king ma­ri-

jua­na is well known. Stu­dents ar­gue, for ins­tan­ce, that smo­king weed is much sa­fer than in­jec­ting opioids. No one will ar­gue with that. Ot­hers claim that ex­ces­si­ve al­cohol use is far mo­re da­ma­ging than the oc­ca­sio­nal joint. In a re­cent ar­ti­cle in Ma­clean’s, a Ha­li­fax uni­ver­sity stu­dent cre­di­ted ma­ri­jua­na with res­cuing his stu­dies: smo­king a small joint at the end of a busy day im­pro­ved his sleep and, con­se­quently, his cour­se gra­des, he clai­med.

Ne­vert­he­less, a num­ber of stu­dies show that using ma­ri­jua­na has se­rious ne­ga­ti­ve ef­fects on the brains of young peo­ple, par­ti­cu­larly on their cog­ni­ti­ve fun­ction and their risk of de­ve­lo­ping psy­cho­sis.

And many users wrongly be­lie­ve that can­na­bis’s main ac­ti­ve in­gre­dient, te­trahy­dro­can­na­bi­nol ( THC) exits the body quickly. In fact, it can be de­tec­ted days la­ter in po­li­ce tests and can ne­ga­ti­vely af­fect aca­de­mic per­for­man­ce.

A 2012 re­port by Du­ke Uni­ver­sity shows that the ear­lier and the mo­re fre­quently an in­di­vi­dual uses pot, the grea­ter their loss of in­te­llec­tual fun­ction. Adults who be­gin using can­na­bis in their teens ha­ve a sig­ni­fi­cant drop in their IQs by the ti­me they are 40. Mo­reo­ver, re­cent re­search shows that con­su­ming ma­ri­jua­na and al­cohol to­get­her can sig­ni­fi­cantly in­crea­se the in­to­xi­ca­ting ef­fect of both subs­tan­ces. The­se con­se­quen­ces can be very se­rious for stu­dents and uni­ver­si­ties.

Edu­ca­tion is not the only way to slow the con­sum­ption of ma­ri­jua­na, but it’s pro­bably the most ob­vious re­medy for ad­mi­nis­tra­tors in the edu­ca­tion bu­si­ness.

Ho­we­ver, stu­dents need real in­for­ma­tion that avoids both sca­re tac­tics and blan­ket reas­su­ran­ces ba­sed on un­re­pre­sen­ta­ti­ve anec­do­tes. A good exam­ple is Car­le­ton Uni­ver­sity’s web por­tal, which, as well as pro­vi­ding con­si­de­ra­ble amounts of in­for­ma­tion on ma­ri­jua­na’s phy­si­cal, cog­ni­ti­ve and long-term health ef­fects, al­so fea­tu­res links to ad­vi­ce, coun­se­lling and ad­dic­tion ser­vi­ces.

Ad­mi­nis­tra­tors can de­ve­lop mo­re rea­lis­tic and ef­fec­ti­ve po­li­cies by in­clu­ding stu­dents in dis­cus­sions. Is­sues to be con­si­de­red in­clu­de whet­her de­sig­na­ted pot-smo­king areas should be es­ta­blis­hed on cam­pus, si­mi­lar to the areas al­ready de­sig­na­ted for smo­king to­bac­co and drin­king al­cohol.

De­ci­ding such is­sues now, ahead of le­ga­li­za­tion, will avoid a con­fu­sed win­ter whi­teout and help keep Ca­na­da’s stu­dents sa­fe, healthy and happy - though not too happy, phar­ma­co­lo­gi­cally spea­king.

Ale­xan­dra Bur­nett is an in­tern at the Fron­tier Cen­tre for Pu­blic Po­licy in Win­ni­peg, whe­re Rod­ney A. Clif­ton is se­nior fe­llow, as well as being eme­ri­tus professor at the Uni­ver­sity of Ma­ni­to­ba. Ga­bor Cse­pre­gi is professor of phi­lo­sophy at the Uni­ver­si­té de Saint-Bo­ni­fa­ce.

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