ANTIGONISH: StFX University is taking steps to prepare the community for legalized cannabis.
On November 28, StFX hosted a President’s Colloquium on “Understanding the Legalization of Cannabis: A University Community Conversation.” The information session occurred on the same day that Bill C-45, the bill to legalize the sale of cannabis passed third reading in the House of Commons. The bill is now headed to the Canadian Senate.
“It’s a timely topic and one that I’m glad we have had this evening,” said StFX President Dr. Kent MacDonald. “This allows us to be even more informed and try to get ahead of this pending legislative change.”
The colloquium allowed students, community members, and faculty to voice their questions and concerns regarding the new legislation. Questions were fielded by a panel that included Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Strang, StFX Psychology Professor Dr. Kara Thompson, and StFX Health and Counselling registered psychologist/clinical therapist, Ivan Drouin.
Questions from those in attendance covered a wide range of topics, including what the rules will be for possession and use on campus, as well as the legal implications of drug testing in the workplace. Because policy decisions are still being made, many of these questions do not yet have a clear answer.
Dr. MacDonald said that StFX administration will have many decisions to make as they create campus policies around the new laws.
“How we roll this out over the next number of months will be important. It’s complex and clearly we have work to do, but I’m pleased that we’ve started this work already,” said MacDonald.
During the discussion, panelists offered information on the potential physical, social and academic risks associated with cannabis, and provided information on safe recreational use as detailed in Canada’s Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines (LRCUG).
Dr. Robert Strang gave an overview of the impending legislation, as well as factors he believes should be considered as policies are developed. This included the need to be competitive with the illegal cannabis market, while discouraging its use by minors, which research suggests can have negative health outcomes.
“There are many different competing objectives that have to be balanced here, like economic objectives and creating a legal market, but at the same time protecting youth,” said Strang. “We need to be committed to measuring the outcomes and adjusting our approach if we’re not getting the objectives that we stated we want to get.”
Canadian institutions like StFX have few models to follow as they prepare for the new legislation that is expected to come into effect next summer. Dr. Strang believes that policies around other legal substances could provide some important insight.
“I think there are lessons that we can learn from both the work we’ve done on tobacco, and what we’ve done to significantly decrease tobacco use rates, as well as our current environment around alcohol, where we have lots of problems,” said Strang.
Strang said that it will be important to involve the public in more information sessions over the coming months.
“Very recently, the federal government announced around $36 million and they’re going to be rolling out a range of initiatives around public awareness and education,” said Strang.
“We need to have a very robust and ongoing discussion with Nova Scotians in an honest way about what are the harms, what are the benefits, and what are the rules going to be?”