Some Canadian post-secondary schools are taking advantage of their right to exercise zero tolerance on their campuses in preparation for the legalization of cannabis this October. When the law is passed on October 17th, nearly two million university students will have already started their studies across the country, and 50,000 of these will be attending Ontario schools, where the legal age for cannabis use is nineteen.
Though many Canadian universities and colleges haven’t yet published their final policies on the drug two schools in London, Ontario, have approached the new legislation by prohibiting the substance on their properties, with Fanshawe College banning cannabis from its entire campus, and Western University prohibiting cannabis from its residence buildings.
“[Cannabis is] not going to be allowed on campus,” says Fanshawe College’s Karrie Burke, “unless there is a medical prescription, at which case it will have to be consumed in our smoking areas.”
Matt Mills, a health and safety consultant at Western, says that the school’s legal team is working on its policy, which will include usage and growing rules. “We haven’t made up our mind one way or another,” says Mills. “We need to talk with the student groups, we need to talk with the faculty groups, the various staff associations and unions, and see which way everyone is leaning towards.”
Western has mandated that students using its residence facilities in the Fall will sign contracts that include a clause that bans pot use and possession. This was, according to Mills, already an established rule before the government extended the legalization from July to October.
Concerns have been raised by activists as well as university and college student groups that this prohibition will only serve to further stigmatize cannabis, which can worsen the challenges already faced by some users. Some dissenters, such as Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s spokesperson Jenna Valleriani, call the ban “nonsensical.” Valleriani says,“I think we’re going to see an increase of policing on public consumption when those laws change over [with] one really key piece to good policy [being] that if you ban it from public spaces, then you need an alternative.”
Jade Peek, Deputy Chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, wants more education about cannabis on campuses across the country, and says that while post-secondary schools’ administrations are within their rights to create rules about cannabis, student unions should be consulted first.
“We don’t believe that students should be penalized further for something that’s been legalized,” she says. “The implementation of designated smoke spots and education around cannabis usage are steps we believe administration should take to make sure students are safe when using cannabis, on and off campus.”
Cannabis supporter and graduate student at Western University Eric Shepperd believes Fanshawe’s and Western’s approaches are too strict, and questions the merit of the prohibition. “It strikes me as if the policy-makers just don’t know what to do,” he said, adding, “as a consequence, they’re going with the simplest possible solution, which is really a nonsensical one.”