Cannabis on campus: A year later

Cannabis on campus: A year later
ANNA SHARRATT
Special to The Globe and Mail Published November 8, 2019

When it comes to cannabis use at the University of Calgary, there hasn’t been a surge in uptake since its legalization last fall, says Jessica Revington, president of the university’s student union.

“No students have approached the student union with issues,” she says, adding she has not heard of any cannabis-related incidents from campus security.

Ms. Revington credits the university’s extensive policies around cannabis, as well as its harm-reduction strategies – plans that were put in place prior to the previous school year. “Those have been very successful,” she says.

The university has also benefited from the City of Calgary’s ban on smoking cannabis in public places. Because the campus is considered a public space, cannabis usage can only take place off-campus in private residences. There is no smoking allowed in residences, Ms. Revington says.

The same appears to hold true in campuses across Canada, and many say that due to pro-active messaging and education campaigns, legalization has actually led to more open dialogue with students about usage.

At the beginning of 2018, many universities began drafting up comprehensive policies around cannabis usage. They assembled working groups to oversee the process, and designed education campaigns intended to maximize student awareness.

Some of these focused on the possibility of addiction, the increased risk of mental-health issues in vulnerable individuals brought on by cannabis use, and the potential effect on studies.

At McGill University in Montreal, legalization has led to more openness and frank conversations around use – which has in turn enabled health professionals to help students.

“Students are more open to honest conversations about safe use as discussions are no longer perceived to be coming from a place of judgment on the legality of the substance,” says Hashana Perera, clinical director of McGill’s health, student and wellness hub. “At the end of the day, the more honest a patient can be with their medical provider, the better care they will receive.”

Despite the cohesive effort of universities to develop these policies, not all campus policies are the same. While many universities ban smoking of cannabis, others such as the University of Victoria allow cannabis use in designated smoking areas on campus.

But the university’s more permissive position has not led to any issues, says Dawn Schell, counsellor with at the University of Victoria.

“We provided designated areas as an on-campus option and safe place to smoke and vape cannabis for adults who live in student housing,” she says. “We have not seen an increase in cannabis use since legalization … [it] seems to have had very little impact.”

University of Toronto has had the same experience. “We’ve seen the legalization of cannabis as an opportunity to educate students about safety, the effects of cannabis, understanding their limits and where to seek help if needed,” according to Noreen Ahmed-Ullah, a university spokesperson. She adds that U of T has now decided to institute a smoke-free campus, which will include smoking and vaping of cannabis, tobacco and other products at the St. George campus, with other campuses to follow.

The goal now, many universities acknowledge, is to continue to offer support and boost awareness around cannabis, ensuring that students have access to information – or help – should they need it.

“We will continue to adapt as we learn more about legalization,” Ms. Revington says. “Our priority is that students are safe.”

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