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Higher education and getting high



On Monday, B.C. Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth announced that the province will gather info from municipalities, the public, and stakeholders about cannabis use. The province has given itself five weeks to get the feedback it needs to draft legislation for the spring legislative session.

According to the Vancouver Sun, Farnworth said, “This is a critical issue for British Columbia and British Columbians, and we’re operating on a very tight timeline — July of 2018 is not that far away.”

You already know about Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act. Its intention is to provide legal access to the dank stuff, while regulating and controlling its production and sale, by next July. As federal law changes, how will university policy adapt?

No doubt UFV has sparked up conversation about cannabis on campus. Crafting a policy will be challenging. Even now, smoking policies vary between institutions. While Emily Carr and Trinity Western University have entirely smoke-free campuses, Simon Fraser University and UFV both only require a minimum distance away from building entrances.

Expectations already exist, but not formal policy. Students are expected to not come to class drunk or high. For good reason too, showing up unhinged is beyond disrespectful. Of course that will stay the same. But what about the Canoe, the gazebos, Baker House? UFV’s residence currently allows alcohol in the privacy of one’s own room. Will the reefer be treated similarly?

The CBC reported, also on Monday, that Health Canada is going to launch a campaign warning youth ages 18-24 about the risks of cannabis use. Under the proposed act, 18-year-olds may purchase cannabis.

There’s a lot of concern about how the drug laws will affect youth. In an editorial by Dr. Diane Kelsall, interim editor-in-chief of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Kelsall writes that Canada’s new pot laws will harm young people, whose minds haven’t fully developed.

“It is toxic to neurons, and regular use of marijuana can actually change their developing brains,” Kelsall writes.

According to the American Psychology Association, a number of studies have found evidence of brain changes in youth who smoke pot.

However, a new study by the Université de Montréal, published in Development and Psychopathology, a Cambridge University Press journal, last December found that smoking pot after age 17 seemed to have little ill effect. Maybe 18 isn’t so bad.

How have other institutions addressed the policy issue? Nearly 30 states already allow recreational pot use, but most U.S. universities maintain their zero-tolerance drug policies. For good reason? Maybe.

In 2015, the Journal of Psychology of Addictive Behaviours published a study that suggested marijuana users miss more lectures and tutorials than non-users, and the more pot they smoked, the more their studies suffered.

Would prohibiting marijuana on campus protect young minds, or does it hold onto an old model that unfairly punishes otherwise upstanding citizens? This is a tough question of ethics.

Maybe pot isn’t bad for a university brain, but it doesn’t help a university GPA. At what point does the university place itself into the role of protector of students from personal decisions? That’s not exactly the institution’s role, but academic success is.

What’s the future of cannabis in higher education? To find out, UFV should begin to consult students about their thoughts on marijuana use. Going beyond that, UFV should open dialogue on marijuana use, the health risk, and addiction.

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