As universities and colleges across Canada scramble to create policies ahead of legalized cannabis, two in London are taking a hard line against the drug by restricting its possession, or banning it outright, on campus.
Fanshawe College, one of Ontario’s largest community colleges, is banning marijuana — its use and consumption – from its campus, while Western University has adopted the same approach for its student residence buildings.
Schools are free to adopt the get-tough or zero-tolerance approach to what will become a legal substance in small amounts this fall, but some student groups and activists are raising the alarm, saying such crackdowns will only further stigmatize pot and lead to more problems for users.
“A ban on outright possession, if you’re of age, really seems nonsensical to me,” said Jenna Valleriani of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which advocates for change in drug laws.
The law making recreational marijuana use legal in Canada is expected to take effect Oct. 17, mere weeks after more than two million university and college students— including about 50,000 in London — flood back to school. In Ontario, the legal age for marijuana use will be 19.
While most universities and colleges haven’t finalized their policies on legal weed — the nation’s largest school, the University of Toronto, still doesn’t have one – some have started rolling out new rules.
“It’s not going to be allowed on campus unless there is a medical prescription, at which case it will have to be consumed in our smoking areas,” Fanshawe College spokesperson Karrie Burke said of marijuana.
Officials at Western have closely monitored the latest cannabis developments and a legal team is working on a policy that will cover everything from usage rules for students and employees to growing pot plants, said Matt Mills, a health and safety consultant at the school.
“Right now, we don’t have a policy, per se,” Mills said.
“We haven’t made up our mind one way or another . . . we need to talk with the students groups, we need to talk with the faculty groups, the various staff associations and unions, and see which way everyone is leaning towards.”
But students moving into residence at Western for the upcoming school year have signed contracts that include a clause banning pot use and possession, Mills said, adding the contracts were drawn up in March, before the federal Liberals set a fall deadline for legalization.
Canada’s largest student organization says post-secondary administrations are free to set cannabis policies – similar to policies banning alcohol at some schools – but they should consult studentunions and other stakeholders first.
“We don’t believe that students should be penalized further for something that’s being legalized,” said Jade Peek, deputy chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, who stressed the need for cannabis education on campuses.
“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,” Peek said.
The Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy held recent roundtable discussions on marijuana, where participants voiced a need for consumption spaces, Valleriani said.
“I think we’re going to see an increase of policing on public consumption when those laws change over,” she said.
“One really key piece to good policy is that if you ban it from public spaces, then you need an alternative,” Valleriani said, echoing Peer’s concern about educating students about marijuana.
“All universities should be taking a really strong approach to harm reduction on cannabis use.”
Marijuana advocate Eric Shepperd, a graduate student at Western, questioned the two London schools’ “heavy handed” approach to cannabis on campus.
“It strikes me as if the policy-makers just don’t know what to do. As a consequence, they’re going with the simplest possible solution, which is really a nonsensical one,” he said.