As UBC stays quiet, students and faculty speak on cannabis legalization

With cannabis set to be legalized this summer, municipal, provincial and federal authorities are figuring out how to roll out recreational cannabis to the masses — and so are universities and colleges.

Smoking tobacco on-campus at UBC is already restricted to designated smoking areas and it’s safe to assume that it will be similar for cannabis. But legalization will raise other questions about cannabis use like where users can vape, whether dispensaries and smoke lounges will be allowed to operate on campus, and if keeping or growing cannabis inside UBC dorms will be permitted.

Currently, the university said it’s working on a coherent cannabis policy — but isn’t revealing those results just yet.

“The university is working on developing a policy in response to the upcoming marijuana legalization that addresses the needs of students, faculty and staff,” reads an emailed statement to The Ubyssey from Hubert Lai, chair of UBC Cannabis Policy Department Policy Development Committee. “It is a complex process and it takes time.”

“It would be inappropriate for the university to comment on any potential details of the policy until the consultation process is complete,” Lai added.

But while UBC is keeping quiet, students have already begun discussing how they want to see cannabis come to campus.

Michelle Thiessen, president of the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s (CSSDP) UBC-Okanagan chapter and a master’s student in clinical psychology, conducted a roundtable discussion at UBCO on current policies surrounding cannabis and alcohol between 25 selected students of different ages, backgrounds and majors.

“The really exciting thing is that even though the cannabis development policy committee doesn’t necessarily want our engagement at this stage — several other stakeholders on-campus have,” said Thiessen.

They shared their findings in a document at the UBCO roundtable discussion, which was attended by two members of the Cannabis Development Policy Committee. The document includes several recommendations such as making on-campus policies as similar as possible to off-campus policies and allowing individuals to purchase cannabis on-campus, much like how alcohol already is.

“Students will probably consume alcohol, so give them the space to do it. Where there [are] intoxicated individuals, they have limits placed on how much they can drink and the hours are regulated,” she said. “We would expect the same for cannabis.”

Still, Thiessen said she is not confident the committee will implement the document’s recommendations.

“As much as we’d like to have a space indoors that promotes vaporizing and harm reduction — I think that it’s probably going to be regulated more like tobacco. Just because of the provincial regulations,” she said.

“It’s unfortunate, but we’ll see what happens.”

Cannabis and research

Students are not the only one with a stake in legalization. Researchers also have an idea as to what cannabis legalization may look both off-campus and on-campus at UBC.

Dr. M-J Milloy, an infectious disease epidemiologist and assistant professor in the division of AIDS at UBC’s department of medicine, said he’s excited about the research opportunities that legalization will allow.

“We’re hoping that once legalization takes place, the rules that govern the scientific application of cannabis will also be relaxed,” he said. “A lot of us scientists who are involved in this research, we know that there’s all sorts of evidence supporting the possibility of cannabis being useful in medical settings.”

Some of his previous research examine the benefits of cannabis for people living with HIV/AIDS, as well as individuals facing addiction to substances like heroin or crack cocaine.

“People who were using cannabis around the time they were infected [with HIV] have lower viral or lower HIV levels in their blood than people who were not using cannabis,” said Milloy.

“On a personal level, it really opened my eyes to the possible applications of cannabis in clinical settings.”

Some of that research might even be applied on campus as cannabis stands to partially replace alcohol as students’ legal substance of choice.

Stephanie Lake, president of the CSSDP’s UBC-Vancouver chapter, is a public health researcher who focuses on how drug policies can affect substance use and addiction. She said that legalization will open the gate for significant research on the effects of cannabis, both at UBC and around the globe.

“We unfortunately haven’t been able to study cannabis to its full scientific potential thanks to decades of prohibition,” said Lake.

Milloy and Lake also hope that legalization and more open policies will help to highlight potential medical benefits for cannabis — in particularly as a substitute to alcohol and binge drinking for university students.

“We know that from the preliminary data that there might be some benefits to cannabis legalization with respect to alcohol,” said Milloy.

“States in the US who have enacted a “legal regime” for cannabis have seen declines in sales of beer, wine and spirits ... I can’t help but think that this might not be the most popular thing to say to a campus newspaper — but alcohol reduction might be a good thing as a community.”