UBC Housing retires cannabis awareness posters criticized for promoting stigma

UBC Student Housing and Community Services (SHCS) has retired a cannabis awareness poster campaign in student housing that some students said created stigma around cannabis use.

The campaign — which was launched in 2018 following the legalization of cannabis in Canada, according to Associate VP of SHCS Andrew Parr — included information about cannabis, its consumption and residence policy around cannabis use. All but two of these posters on information on housing policy and safe consumption were taken down earlier this year.

But, some of the retired posters were missed when SHCS took them down.

On February 22, student governor Max Holmes criticized one of these posters on Twitter.

The poster shows an illustration of a brain covered in lettuce with the captions “Why are they all looking at me? They’re looking at me, right? OMG. I’m in a lettuce,” and “Paranoia, confusion and panic are just some of the short-term effects of cannabis.” The poster also has the slogan “Love Your Brain” on the side and refers students to housing.ubc.ca/loveyourbrain. This link is no longer active.

“[UBC is] doing it’s best to stigmatize and alienate student drug users on campus with ads in the buildings they live in,” tweeted Holmes. “The implied message is people who use drugs obviously don’t love their brain (or themselves).”

“Ads like this (especially in housing) will probably do more harm than help and may make students less likely to access services,” wrote Holmes. “We need to do better to destigmatize drug use. This does the opposite.”

Another poster that stigmatizes cannabis use was seen in Marine Drive residence in late February.

The poster has an illustration of a brain wearing sunglasses and holding an ice cream cone with the captions “Dolla, dolla bill y’all,” and “Spend your money wisely. Cannabis use is linked to increased debt and lower income.”

When asked about Holmes’s tweet, Parr said in a statement to The Ubyssey that the poster criticized by Holmes was missed when SHCS was taking down posters related to this campaign. He did not mention the other poster seen in Marine Drive.

In a follow-up email, Matthew Ramsey, director of university affairs at UBC Media Relations, said the poster in Marine Drive was one of the retired posters without further elaboration.

Parr said that SHCS remains committed to supporting student residents and that it “will be collaborating with our colleagues in UBC Wellbeing and Student Health on a new substance use campaign for the future.”

Samara Mayer, a UBC PhD student and the chair of the Vancouver chapter of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said in an interview with The Ubyssey that this campaign is “not effective” as it “provides very selective information about cannabis use.”

“It would be helpful to further emphasize harm reduction related to cannabis use, provide information about how to balance the benefits and drawbacks of cannabis use, provide tangible ways to reduce potential harm and also to highlight more broadly the role cannabis plays in health and wellbeing,” said Mayer.

When asked if SHCS is doing enough to promote harm reduction, Mayer said that she would like to see changes to drug policy and the implementation of a medical amnesty policy to protect students who call for help in the case of a drug related emergency.

A medical amnesty policy, as explained by Mayer, is similar to the federal Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act. AMS VP Academic and University Affairs and President-Elect Eshana Bhangu has also called on the university to implement such a policy.

“[It] would ensure that students don't face academic or institutional repercussions when they're looking for help in the event of an on campus alcohol or drug related emergency,” said Mayer.

According to the SHCS student resident contract, students found possessing, using, trafficking or offering illicit substances can be evicted or face legal repercussions. However, students can possess cannabis, as long as it's clearly labelled and stored in an airtight container.

Holmes also criticized this policy in the student resident contract for similar reasons during the March 16 Board of Governors People, Community & International committee meeting.