Cannabis on campus reportedly “the biggest non-event of the century”

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UVic’s policy on cannabis unsurprisingly laid-back

Photo outlining the designated smoking areas on campus via University of Victoria.

B.C.’s weed-friendly reputation proves true at UVic, as policy-makers appear to be unfazed regarding students using cannabis on campus.

The general attitude seems to be, we know you’re doing it, so please use the designated areas, and don’t annoy the neighbours or burn down Mystic Vale.

Though cannabis is federally legal as of Oct. 17, legislation around public use varies from province to province. Universities are responsible for establishing policies in accordance with the rules of their province.

In B.C., the minimum age for legal cannabis consumption is 19. Cannabis smoking and vaping are banned wherever tobacco smoking or vaping are banned, as well as being prohibited in vehicles and in areas frequented by children such as beaches and parks. Otherwise, cannabis use is permitted in public.  

According to Kane Kilbey, Associate Vice-President of Human Resources and leading member of the working group responsible for the university’s cannabis protocol, UVic has taken “a fundamentally pragmatic perspective.”

The university wants to avoid stigmatizing cannabis use, while encouraging those living in residence who use the drug to do so safely.

Policy-makers are aware that cannabis consumption is nothing new on campus. The crafting of rules has been more about legally recognizing and regulating existing behaviour, rather than making allowances for new activity. Kilbey sees drafting a whole new cannabis-focused policy as unnecessary.

“We’re adjusting a few of our policies because many of our policies were written at a time when cannabis was considered an illicit drug,” he says. “So you have to change that context, but we’re not introducing a new cannabis policy.”

Instead, cannabis use has been integrated into UVic’s current smoking policy. The existing smoking benches remain solely designated for tobacco smoking, while there are two new benches for cannabis use located near Parking Lot 5 and near the residences behind the Student Union Building (SUB).

Legal cannabis use on campus is “a bit of a social experiment, and the regulatory framework is going to continue to evolve.”

Pierre-Paul Angelblazer, UVSS Director of Outreach and University Relations, says that although the UVSS was consulted semi-regularly during the planning process, he does not think students’ needs will be met by just the two benches.

“We brought up this concern and the response was that you don’t necessarily have to sit on the bench, all you have to do is stay in the general vicinity of the bench. People will almost certainly continue to smoke and vape indoors, however the two benches will at least accommodate a few people.”

The new benches are specifically placed to serve students who live in residence. UVic wants to avoid inadvertently encouraging students to commute to school, use cannabis on campus, and then commute home while impaired. For those living elsewhere in the community who wish to use cannabis, they are encouraged to do so in their own neighbourhoods, as per municipal bylaws.

Kilbey admits that legal cannabis use on campus is “a bit of a social experiment, and that the regulatory framework is going to continue to evolve,” but he believes that limiting the number of benches “reduces second hand smoke on campus and hopefully impaired driving in the broader community.”

Dawn Schell, a UVic counsellor who runs information courses about cannabis use on campus, says that they will continue to monitor the current policy in the coming months.

“There will be an ongoing evaluation about the number of benches and cannabis use on campus,” says Schell.

Part of the issue is finding bench locations that meet all of the criteria for allowing cannabis use.

“Wherever we put them, they have to be consistent with the municipal bylaws and the WorkSafe B.C. regulations,” Kilbey says.

“We can’t expose our workers to second hand smoke of any kind, including psychoactive ingredients. It [also] has to be safe and accessible for adults living on campus, so not tucked away in some dark corner.”  

The idea behind the benches is that redirecting behaviour is easier than banning it altogether.  

Without places to light up on campus, Kilbey realizes that students will “do it in the Vale, and burn it down one of these days, or they’ll walk across the street and consume it and smoke it legally in our neighbourhoods.”

Setting Mystic Vale on fire would obviously be problematic for UVic, as would causing complaints about smoking in surrounding residential areas.

Kilbey is not concerned about policy enforcement, and believes that “for campus security, it will be business as usual.”

“At the end of the day, it feels a bit like Y2K, where a lot work goes into something that turned out to be one of the biggest non-events of the century.”

The role of campus security will be to “provide education, information, and redirection” to cannabis-friendly areas. While police might check the IDs of cannabis users and enforce the 30 gram possession limit, campus security will not.

Saanich police were contacted by the Martlet but declined to comment on how impaired driving would be enforced near campus following legalization, saying only that “road safety has consistently been identified as a top priority by people living in Saanich,” and that the department would “continue to invest in resources that keep our roadways, and those who use them, safe.”

There is only one federally-approved device for roadside saliva testing for THC. Most police departments are waiting for a wider range of options to choose from before placing orders. Officers currently rely on field sobriety tests, such as vision tracking, to screen drivers.

For staff and students, the only real change on campus is that designated cannabis smoking areas now exist. University employees are still responsible for arriving at work unimpaired, and students are still expected to be sober in class.  UVic will continue to support employees and students who use cannabis for medical reasons.

Additional signage and websites with information regarding harm reduction and resources for students are planned to launch with legalization. For students dealing with substance abuse problems, UVic Counselling Services, Health Services, and the UVSS Peer Support Centre offer support.

The university knows that students who want to smoke cannabis already do. Kilbey makes it clear that while UVic is prepared, the school is not expecting issues with legalization.

“At the end of the day, it feels a bit like Y2K, where a lot work goes into something that turned out to be one of the biggest non-events of the century. And maybe it’s going to be just like that, given what we already know about consumption patterns. Now there’s just a place to do it.”