Many Canadian universities' policies on legal cannabis too restrictive: advocates
Published Tuesday, October 9, 2018 10:00PM EDT Last Updated Friday, October 12, 2018 2:52PM EDT
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:
University of Guelph, Guelph, Ont.
A new cannabis policy is being drafted and has not been finalized. But plans are to include cannabis under a ban on tobacco smoking in campus residences. Plants and edibles will also not be allowed in residence and students will not be allowed to have cannabis delivered to campus. Exceptions will be allowed for medicinal use. Cannabis use for faculty and staff will be included in existing drug and alcohol workplace policies. The university has a number of educational initiatives and awareness campaigns either underway or planned focusing on new legislation, the health effects of cannabis use, and harm reduction for users.
Carleton University, Ottawa
A university policy enacted in June bans cannabis consumption and cultivation on campus “as it is considered a public place and a workplace.” The prohibition includes all public places, vehicles and workplaces at Carleton. Online delivery of campus is not allowed, as is the case with alcohol, and edibles are not permitted for sale or consumption on campus. Medical consumption of marijuana will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Trent University, Peterborough, Ont.
The university will allow recreational cannabis on campus in designated smoking areas that are being built. Smoking or vaping is currently not permitted in any of the university's residence buildings. This will not change.
University of Ottawa
The university will not allow consumption or growing of cannabis on campus “since the provincial regulations prohibit use/smoking of cannabis in any public space and workplaces.” The prohibition of cannabis extends to residences and residence agreements have been updated to reflect legalization. Edibles will also not be allowed for consumption or sale on campus. The university “is committed to providing reasonable accommodation for medical cannabis use on a case-by-case basis.”
University of British Columbia, Vancouver and Kelowna
According to Hubert Lai, University Counsel at UBC, the university spent several months consulting with experts and stakeholders about cannabis use. “On the UBC Okanagan campus, smoking of tobacco and cannabis is generally prohibited except in the designated smoking gazebos.
On the Vancouver campus, smoking of tobacco and cannabis is prohibited indoors, inside bus shelters, inside UBC vehicles and within eight metres of doors and air intakes.” UBC is proposing changes to treat vaping as smoking. Consumption of edibles will be permitted on UBC's campus.
McGill University, Montreal
McGill is working to update its rules but in the interim will adhere to provincial rules, which prohibit cannabis smoking or vaping in “premises or buildings of a university-level institution” and “on the grounds of a post-secondary educational institution.” The rules include any university buildings, student residences, sports fields or playgrounds and designated smoking areas for tobacco. Consumption of cannabis in all other forms, including edibles, drinkables, and topicals will also be prohibited on campus. Possession of cannabis products will be allowed to the extent of the law, but cannabis plants will not be permitted anywhere on campus.
Mount Royal University, Calgary
“This is new territory for everyone ̶ governments, universities and post-secondary students. It is to be expected that the process is fluid: we're all learning,” the university said. After consulting a campus-wide working group, the university decided to update is smoking policy to include cannabis.
“While we continue to explore our options, the City has decided not to permit the smoking of cannabis in public places. Given this, we will abide by the city's bylaws. At this point, cannabis is banned on campus as we conform to City of Calgary bylaws. We will retain our tobacco smoking zones but they are not for cannabis.”
Concordia University, Montreal
“At Concordia, we are currently examining our policies and will make whatever adjustments are necessary to ensure that they conform to federal and provincial legislation as of Oct. 17,” a university spokesperson said in a statement. “Quebec law is clear: any smoking or vaping of marijuana anywhere on Québec university campuses... indoors or outdoors... is strictly prohibited. As for edibles, Canadian law maintains that it will be illegal to eat cannabis products in Canada.”
Memorial University, St. John’s
“Our campuses are smoke-free and have been since 2013. That includes tobacco, cannabis and other combustibles. Edibles have not been legalized under the current provincial legislation and violations would continue to be addressed through law enforcement as they have been in the past.”
University of Victoria
“The University of Victoria is finalizing a cannabis protocol and will have information to share once this has been communicated to our campus community, sometime before Oct. 17,” the school said.
Brandon University, Brandon, Man.
“In addition to taking into consideration the federal legislation, Brandon University’s policy adheres to Province of Manitoba legislation, which prohibits edible cannabis products, the growing of cannabis plants at home, and the recreational consumption of cannabis in public areas,” the university said. “The prohibition of cannabis use in all public areas of Manitoba extends to the entire campus, including all buildings. Our policy allows for exceptions to be made in the case of accommodations for medical use.”
Dalhousie University, Halifax
“Dalhousie University already has a no-smoking policy, which came into effect on Sept. 1, 2003. The policy prohibits all forms of smoking, including cannabis, in all university buildings (including university residences), on university property and in university vehicles. We have been looking at the issue of the legalization of cannabis. Our decisions are based on federal, provincial laws and municipal laws and take into account any related campus policies, such as our no smoking policy,” the school said.
Students will not be allowed to grow or possess cannabis plants in residence and must store any products in such a way that “any smell is undetectable outside of the student’s residence room or, in a shared room, by roommates.” Selling or distributing cannabis in residence is prohibited as is any “display trophies or windows displays of bongs, pipes, grinders, and other paraphernalia, etc.”
University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ont.
The university does not have a marijuana-specific policy but has a working group looking into the issue. As it stands, students would only be able to consume marijuana in their residence rooms and only in edible form because smoking is banned. There will be no smoking of marijuana permitted in public spaces, which is all of campus. Students living in residence will not be able to have marijuana delivered to them.
Ryerson University, Toronto
“Ryerson University is in the process of getting ready for the new cannabis legislation. There is an internal working committee examining and updating the university's various administrative policies that are impacted as a result of the legalization of cannabis. The university will be communicating rules around use on campus with the Ryerson community in time for legalization,” the university said.
“York University currently uses and complies with the provincial smoking legislation and regulations. We will continue to do so. We do expect to have a new policy in place this fall,” the university said.
University of Alberta, Edmonton
Smoking and vaping of cannabis products will be permitted in a small number of locations on at least one university campus, with locations to be determined. Other campuses are still working out their policies. Smoking and vaping of cannabis will not be permitted in residence buildings or at university events for at least a year, and growing of plants will be prohibited across campus, except for approved research. Sales, advertising, branding and sponsorship of cannabis products on university campuses or at university events will not be permitted.
The university said it is allowing consumption in designated zones because: “We believe we should align with the laws and values of the surrounding community.”
“Thousands of people live on our campuses in university residences. Without a place to use cannabis there would be no legal location for them to use this legal substance without leaving university property. Many members of the community have a medical need for cannabis and we recommend that they should have places to use it.”
The university said it supports “a harm reduction strategy based on education about risks rather than prohibition.”
McMaster University, Hamilton, Ont.
The university announced in September 2017 that it was banning smoking across its campus, including recreational and medicinal marijuana. The university said those who need cannabis for therapeutic purposes would be able to consume it through edible products or other means. At the time, McMaster became at least the 14th Canadian college or university to make its campuses 100 per cent smoke-free. The ban extends to private vehicles parked on university grounds.
With a report from Annie Bergeron-Oliver, CTV News