What will legalization look like for StFX?
On Monday, November 27, members of the StFX community gathered in the Riley Hall lounge for this year’s President’s Colloquium titled, “Understanding the Legalization of Cannabis: A University Community Conversation."
Hosting such an event in a residence building may seem abnormal, however, President Kent McDonald noted the importance of residences in bringing together academic, intellectual and social life. By holding a stimulating conversation about such a pertinent topic within residence, the hope was to show the integration of StFX university life.
The venue also highlighted the importance of having hard conversations, especially in the light of recent events that have rattled the campus. The President was sure to take note of this, indicating his absolute condemnation of sexual assault anywhere. He stated how it is imperative to face “difficult topics” so as to “better the institution by having these conversations."
The panel for the evening consisted of Dr. Robert Strang, the Chief Medical Officer of Nova Scotia who has been active in conversations regarding the impending legislation within the province, Dr. Kara Thompson, a psychology professor at StFX whose research focuses on substance use and mental health, and Dr. Ivan Drouin, a registered psychologist and clinical therapist in StFX’s Health and Counselling Centre. Dr. Strang was able to contextualize the evening, providing information about the current conversation concerning health and government, while both Dr. Thompson and Dr. Drouin were able to provide a perspective concerning mental health especially for university campuses.
Dr. Strang, introducing the topic, outlined both Bill C-45 and C-46, with focus on the former, stating a lot of the reason behind creating this bill was to reduce the burden of the criminal justice system in dealing with low-level cannabis infractions. There will be a divide in the responsibilities concerning the legalization; federally, the government will control production and licensing, seed-to-sale tracking and medical marijuana; provincially, retail and distribution, public consumption, enforcement, home cultivation and age limit will be decided, with some guidelines handled by the federal system.
Some hypothetical legislation that has been talked about included that an individual will have to be 18 or over, to carry 30g or less of dried herb in public, or the equivalent in other forms of the product. Those 17 and under, in possession of less than 5g will be dealt with by the province, while those with 5g and over will be handled by the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Each household might possibly be allowed to have up to 4 plants for personal growth. If one is in possession of 30-50g or 5-6 plants, it will merely be a ticketable offense rather than a criminal one. Both the age limit and plant allowance have been limited federally, however, it is up to the discretion of the provinces to alter this to a lower limit if they so desire.
Dr. Strang also noted that legislation on edibles is not set to be released until a year after the initial legalization of cannabis, in July of 2018.
Four of the main areas of concern for government, other than age limit, is the retail of the product and whether it will be public or private as well as the amount of public consumption and impaired driving. The first three concerns are being treated in quite a similar manner to alcohol, while the last might mean far more checks for drivers as the effects of cannabis are far more difficult to track.
With this contextualization in place, the panel turned to answering questions from the audience concerning how this will impact the university community, with particular emphasis on health and safety for the campus and country. All three panelists seemed to be in agreement on the particular topic of the use of marijuana and mental health, stating that research, although being in early stages, seems to point in a beneficial direction in treating of anxiety, depression but also understanding its possible dangers to those who have conditions such as schizophrenia. Dr. Drouin mentioned that for post-traumatic stress disorder, there has been no clear evidence as to whether it is beneficial or not, while they all pointed to marijuana’s affects in increasing social anxiety.
Dr. Thompson pointed out that it was majority young people who utilized the substance, however, not those who are in university as only 17% of students reported use in the last 30 days.
It became clear throughout the panel’s discussion that the hope in having such an event was to instigate further conversations. There is limited knowledge on the subject, as the government is still muddling through figuring out the legislation (with Nova Scotia planning on having a set plan by the end of December) and research on the effect of the substance in very early stages. As the topic develops and information on the subject is revealed further, more open and honest discussions can be had, allowing a visible and integrated exchange to occur.