Universities need to prepare for marijuana legalization

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With or without the law on their side, young Canadians already use recreational marijuana. Still, when marijuana legalization comes into effect, Canadian universities need to have a policy in place to regulate its open use on school grounds.

In an article in Maclean’s, Michael Szafron, associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s School of Public Health, believes when cannabis is legalized in Canada, it should be banned from universities. In the same article, Steve Fitterer, vice-president of student affairs and campus life at Mount Royal University in Calgary, argues against this. He believes that universities can simply update their smoking policies to include the use of marijuana. 

To Szafron’s point, outright banning cannabis on university campuses will end up creating more problems than it solves. Harm reduction is the main focus of Queen’s Campus Alcohol Strategy, and Queen’s should adopt a marijuana strategy that will reflect the same outlook. 

Having students adopt low-risk marijuana practices — such as creating designated and regulated spaces to use it — will be important. It’s much easier to monitor cannabis use in the open rather than behind closed doors.  

Even though the ban on smoking substances inside campus buildings is a rule that won’t change, Queen’s needs to take into account the layer of complexity marijuana will add to campus policy on drugs. 

It’s difficult to decriminalize a drug because the connotations that come with once-illegal substances are overwhelmingly negative. For the first few months after marijuana is legalized, universities will need to go through some experimentation with destigmatizing the drug on campus.

Taking their alcohol policy into consideration, Canadian universities need to create a new policy ahead of pot legalization that outlines exactly what’s acceptable and what’s not. 

Legalizing pot won’t change how many people habitually use it, but will bring up problems we haven’t seen before when it comes to enforcing drug policies on campuses. Instead of ignoring the inevitable issues that will surface after legalization, universities need to anticipate the ways that marijuana use will differ from alcohol and tobacco on campus. 

 

— Journal Editorial Board

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