U of S prepares policy for marijuana legalization

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Universities across Canada have begun preparing for the summer of 2018, when the Canadian government plans to legalize marijuana. At the University of Saskatchewan, these preparations include a research project and a new policy.

Marijuana is sometimes used by students for stress relief, and the drug is expected to become more accessible after legalization. This fall, the U of S Student Wellness Centre began researching the best ways to implement marijuana use into the new alcohol policy that they are working on.

Patti McDougall, vice-provost, teaching and learning, confirms that marijuana will likely be included in the incoming alcohol policy.

“We have already been hard at work on an alcohol policy, so I think it would make an abundant amount of sense for us to think about that as an alcohol and substance use policy that would also encompass the use of cannabis,” McDougall said.

According to a 2017 survey conducted by Maclean’s, a respective three per cent of U of S students self-reported using marijuana daily, a few times a week, a few times a month and about once a month. McDougall believes the number of users will grow as accessibility increases. The SWC plans to inform students of safe-use practices rather than dissuade marijuana use.

Adam Kurtz*, a third-year geology student who started smoking marijuana occasionally during high school, states that he now smokes around three times a week.

“I smoke it more often now than ever before because of university stress. It’s mostly for anxiety and helping me relax,” Kurtz said. “It just helps me to forget about stress, deadlines and school and takes my mind off it.”

Mandy Smith*, a first-year law student who uses marijuana recreationally, thinks the tax revenue will be the biggest benefit of legalization. She believes the revenue could be used to fund infrastructure and other programs, yet she is aware that there are potential health concerns.

“It’s good in certain circumstances, but smoking anything has effects,” Smith said. “Legalizing could actually keep people from smoking it or encourage consuming it in other ways that are less detrimental to your lungs.”

Kurtz believes that the university will face challenges when marijuana is legalized, such as the ability to identify if a student has used marijuana on campus.

“I see the benefits, but I don’t know how campus would react to it. It’s really complicated, in terms of determining if someone is using marijuana on campus,” Kurtz said. “It’s not like alcohol, where you can use a breathalyzer and know instantly if someone is drunk.”

Smith believes that, because marijuana can have negative effects on students, the university should have restrictions on it.

“It will be interesting to see how the university deals with it. It’s not going to be legal in the way that you can just smoke it outside on the university campus,” Smith said. “Consuming any mind-altering substance at a young age is not necessarily healthy for you, and putting restrictions on it is a good thing.”

McDougall explains that the focus of this policy will be legal compliance, safety and wellness, which ongoing research will address in preparation for the upcoming legalization.

“We’re currently engaged in a research project,  that’s funded by the Ministry of Health, [that] started in the early fall, so that we can provide unbiased, relevant and credible information that will help students make informed choices,” McDougall said.

McDougall explains that the university administration is focused on education and awareness about marijuana, which is why the U of S policy will reflect recommendations made in the research project. She also notes that there will be new student-outreach groups with resources, programming and information on substance use.

“[The research] is about interviewing experts and stakeholders. It’s about reviewing [the] literature [that’s] out there, in terms of best practices, … and coming up with strategies and recommendations, which I am excited to see in the early part of the new year.”

*To respect the privacy of the individuals interviewed, their names have been changed.

Lyndsay Afseth / Staff Writer

Graphic: Jaden Pierce