Student stakeholders prepare to hash out UBC’s approach to cannabis

With legalization on the horizon, student stakeholders are preparing to hash out UBC’s draft policy for cannabis on campus as it enters its community consultation phase.

The marijuana policy development committee’s (MPDC) suggested revisions to UBC’s existing smoking policy — Policy 15 — would treat cannabis in largely the same way as tobacco on both UBC campuses.

If approved by the Board of Governors (BoG) in February 2019, students at UBC Vancouver would theoretically be able to smoke cannabis anywhere that is not banned under provincial and municipal guidelines, such as at parks or within eight metres of doorways.

Stephanie Lake, president of the UBC chapter of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said that the draft policy “strikes a balance” between smokers and non-users.

“I think they recognize that a substantial proportion of the student population is already using cannabis or might want to try it once it’s legal,” said Lake.

AMS VP Academic Max Holmes, whose office was among the student stakeholders consulted by the committee, said the society advocated for a policy that did not “overregulate.”

“The main recommendation from the AMS was really to look at alignment with provincial regulation,” said Holmes.

Harm reduction

Students also praised the inclusion of harm reduction practices in the policy’s drafting and mandate — but noted improvements could still be made.

The draft notes that AMS Vice — the society’s harm reduction and addiction service — is set to partner with Nurse on Campus to provide resources and support for students to use cannabis safely, particularly as an increase in overall cannabis usage is anticipated.

“The AMS is going to working very closely with Vice, one of our services, on not only harm reduction but what changes they may recommend to the policy and really recommend this from a service lens,” said Holmes.

Lake said the inclusion of harm reduction resources in the policy’s draft — particularly the citation of Canada’s lower-risk cannabis guidelines — demonstrates an informed approach to the drug’s legalization.

“They’ve looked at the evidence, they’ve considered the perspective of a diverse group of students, and they’re trying to be pragmatic about it as well,” said Lake.

Lake did note that potential changes to the policy could include separating cannabis-smoking zones at UBC Okanagan from tobacco ones, saying that the two users don’t necessarily want to inhale the other’s smoke.

“People consuming cannabis might not want to be inhaling second-hand tobacco smoke, just as tobacco smokers might not want to be in a cloud of cannabis smoke,” said Lake.

She added that the policy should be more lax on vaporizers, which are generally regarded as a lower-risk way of consuming cannabis.

“To be mindful”

This year was the first in which residence contracts specifically included rules around cannabis, including a ban on growing or smoking it within or outside residences. But the updated contracts allow the possession of cannabis as long as it is clearly labelled.

“What we don’t want is for someone to leave their cannabis lying around and for someone to accidentally consume it,” said University Counsel Hubert Lai at the September 13 People, Community and International BoG committee meeting.

Theoretically, there is no ban on preparing edibles in residence kitchens provided that it does not create “a nuisance” or powerful odours.

UBC Residence Hall Association (RHA) President Vandita Kumar said that while she is in agreement with the terms as set out in the new contracts, there is no guarantee they’ll be followed by students once the drug is legalized on October 17.

“It’s worth noting that a lot of people don’t actually read their residence contracts,” said Kumar. “They don’t really know the nitty-gritty details — once something like this happens, the residence life managers often send out a blast to everyone … but reading that email will probably be your last priority.”

Kumar said the RHA’s main concern is whether legalization exacerbates existing issues of odours from smoking cannabis in student residences.

“It was already an issue for an RA to deal with … we’re just reminding all of our residents to be mindful,” said Kumar.

What she, Holmes and Lake agree on is that it’s unlikely the policy will leave community consultation without substantial revisions — especially since it’s set to be approved a full four months after legalization.

“I cannot imagine that they would get it all right on the first time,” said Kumar. “It’s never happened in the history of the world, it’s not going to happen with this policy.”