The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

 “I use it as a stress relief after a long day. When I’m done working on a big project or have finished studying, it’s really nice to just kick back and unwind after your mind has been racing all day at school for so many hours,” said Jolaine Tansowney, a broadcast journalism student at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT).

For students like Tansowney, the new legislation will have little to no effect on her habit, she said. She has always kept school and marijuana separate and that won’t change with legalization, she told the Calgary Journal.

“People who smoke it now will probably continue, and those who don’t may experiment once or twice but I don’t see it having a huge effect. I hope people are safe and responsible with their use and familiarize themselves with the resources universities will provide,” said Tansowney.

According to the CBC, almost two out of every 10 Canadians reported having consumed marijuana in the past year, and more than 30 per cent of poll respondents said they would do so in the next year if it becomes legal.

As Canada prepares for legalization of recreational marijuana use as early as July 1, implementation and regulation are being left in the hands of the provinces to hash out.

In Alberta, lawmakers are in conversation trying to determine the best way to address major issues.

According to Alberta’s Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, the four areas of focus are:

  1. Keeping marijuana out of the hands of children
  2. Promoting public health
  3. Keeping roads, workspaces and public areas safe
  4.  Eliminating the sale of marijuana on the black market.

Currently, Alberta’s government is seeking feedback from citizens before it begins working on finalizing the rules around legalization. So far, they have decided the minimum age for legal consumption is 18, how it will be distributed and sold, and how to detect and penalize citizens who drive under the influence of marijuana.

The government’s current plan is to keep sales of marijuana separate from alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical drugs, and for the provincial government to be in charge of online sales.

Distribution of marijuana will be sold in privately owned retail stores and will be managed through the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, as is the case now with alcohol.

The pricing and taxation of marijuana has not yet been determined, but will be established by the federal and provincial governments in the months ahead. What is less clear is how the city’s post-secondary school campuses will adjust to the legalization, and how it will impact campus life across Alberta.

Currently, university campuses have a zero tolerance policy for marijuana possession and use, with the exception of those students with medical accommodations. But conversations are in progress as representatives of various campus constituencies work on upcoming policy changes.

“It’s definitely a cross-functional issue so we’re seeing representatives from all parts of campus including student representatives,” said Laura Henderson, health promotions specialist with the Healthy Campus Team at Mount Royal University (MRU). “So, I think we want to make sure that everyone has a voice and we also want to make sure that we’re talking with and watching what other universities are doing.”

Since majority of post-secondary students are 18 or over, each could possess up to 30-grams of marijuana without penalty in the future. Possessing amounts over that limit would be considered criminal.

MRU is addressing similar concerns to those the province has voiced and wants to make sure these four pillars are addressed in appropriate ways. Though, Henderson said the fear for students is lack of education and over consumption.

“People are going to have to be responsible and autonomous adults in terms of their consumption, and around this idea of not too much, not too often, and in safe places.”

MRU plans to offer different education campaigns around letting students know what safe guidelines look like and where they can go for marijuana support around campus.

"I don’t think a large number of students will be affected but some will be so it’s trying to educate them prior to them trying marijuana." - Ritesh Narayan

Only a few kilometers away, the University of Calgary is discussing similar issues on campus. Debbie Bruckner, senior director of Student Wellness and Access Support, said the major concern is monitoring impairment on campus. As well, monitoring public use, which will be in line with current tobacco use policies and promoting the safe use of marijuana.

“U of C is currently working on policy development in alignment with both the national framework and the recently tabled Alberta legislation, which includes harm reeducation statements and use of cannabis on campus,” said Bruckner.

Chris Gerritsen, a spokesperson for SAIT, released a statement saying the school will comply with both the federal and provincial government when it comes to the impending cannabis legislation.

“We will also comply with the city regarding any new or adjusted bylaws. SAIT already has policies and procedures when it comes to use on campus by way of prescription for medical conditions. Developing policies and procedures to comply with the forthcoming legislation will take time as it is a complex issue,” said Gerritsen.

MRU professor and former lawyer Ritesh Narayan believes the appropriate approach would be to allocate resources towards educating and providing support to students.

“I don’t think a large number of students will be affected but some will be so it’s trying to educate them prior to them trying marijuana,” he said.  “Also having that support, in the event that they have started consuming it but they don’t have a handle on it, the school should be providing that support.”

According to Narayan, taking a humane methodology to this topic will help students achieve the right mentality as well.

The voice of students is an important one to hear as this legalization may soon impact life on campus. Sam Ridgway, a former MRU student who identifies as agender, said one of the positive aspects of legalization is reducing the stigma of marijuana use.

Former student smokingSam Ridgway largely credits marijuana use to their ability to graduate and hopes the legalization of cannabis will alter the negative stigma currently surrounding it. Photo by Breanne Kramer.

Ridgway has been using marijuana for medicinal purposes for just over a year to help ease anxiety. They said using has helped them phenomenally, they largely credit marijuana use to achieving graduation.

“I went from not going to class at all because my anxiety was so bad, I was having paranoia and daily panic attacks; I was basically nonfunctional,” Ridgway said. “My last year of school was saved, being able to have something that grounded me and dialed back the anxiety a little bit. That meant that I could still go to most of my classes and still do my assignments.”

According to Ridgway, legalization should be addressed in a positive way that educates students while assisting with mental health concerns and medical issues.

Even as conversations continue at federal, provincial and municipal levels, universities have addressed their tentative plans to educate and provide support for students on campus.

With policies for tobacco use and alcohol consumption already in place on campuses, the use of marijuana should fit naturally into the framework already in place for these substances.

“I think with this legalization, more people will realize that there’s a lot of people that do smoke who are really functional which are important things to consider. I think that it’s important to have information about how not to hurt yourself and consume responsibly,” Ridgway said.

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