Photo from Silhouette Photo Archives
I would like to preface this by saying I have never smoked. Blame the contract six-year-old Sabrina signed in purple crayon or the hour-long lectures my mother gave about the “dangers of drugs” but to this day, I’ve never had the desire to smoke, cigarettes or marijuana. I actually dislike the smell of smoke, especially that of cannabis, and so I can understand the motivation behind campus smoking bans. And yet, I still think they’re wrong.
If the federal government can legalize cannabis use and possession for consenting adults, then what right does McMaster or any university have to impose their own notions of health onto their students? Especially amidst the lack of evidence concerning the risks and therapeutic benefits of cannabis, it screams arrogant paternalism for a university to infringe upon our autonomy like this. Whether I chose to smoke or not should be my decision, irrespective of the institution that I pay into.
— McMaster University (@McMasterU) 4 January 2018
McMaster prides itself on being the first Ontario campus to go 100 per cent tobacco and smoke-free. So far, the rules have been fairly simple. If you are caught smoking on campus grounds, you get a warning, and maybe a fine too. The ban has not stopped students from smoking, however. It has only stopped them from smoking in well-lit, safe areas.
And that’s the kicker. Prohibition has never worked. If someone intends to use a substance, they’re going to use it whether you ban it or not. The government realizes this. They realize this so much, in fact, that they have legalized — and will soon profit from — cannabis. If universities were smart, they would realize this too.
I am not saying that students should be encouraged to attend classes high or to smoke during lectures. But the rules need to be revisited and revised to be more realistic and definitely more comprehensive. Students will smoke. If the university truly cared about their students, they’d help these students smoke in a safe way.
Specialized university smoking policies are unnecessary. Smoking in Canada is already banned in indoor public spaces and within nine meters from the entrance of social service institutions, including universities. If these rules are sufficient outside of the university bubble, there’s no reason they can’t be sufficient within it.
Brock University has recently updated their smoking and vaping policy to address the use of cannabis on campus; specifically banning smoking cannabis, banning the production of any cannabis edibles, and implementing scent-free cannabis storage rules. In addition to these policy updates, Brock is proposing to create a new “Fit for Work Standard” which could potentially include the monitoring of substances including cannabis to judge the impairment of their employees.
This is where my main concern lies. Regulation of a substance is a slippery slope. It’s no question that marginalized communities are disproportionately profiled and stand a greater risk of being unfairly policed and mistreated. I fear that what may start as well-intentioned smoking bans could quickly lead to prejudiced behaviour against vulnerable groups on campus.
It’s important to remember that there are many social determinants of cannabis use, and its misuse. Last week, I attended a roundtable on the impact of cannabis legalization which was held by the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research. One of the attendees, a representative from the Canadian Mental Health Association, stressed that we must not tread into the medical reductionism of cannabis. The harms that are associated to cannabis are tied to a myriad of social issues that we must address first. Poverty, housing instability, food insecurity and racism are all factors that contribute towards cannabis use. There are also those who use cannabis as a treatment for an uncountable number of diseases and disorders including insomnia, anxiety and depression.
How can we then justify a ban against cannabis? This would essentially be a ban against its users, many of whom are the vulnerable and disenfranchised. It’s unclear what McMaster plans to do. What is clear is that when creating policies like smoking bans, it is the responsibility of the university, which claims to care about its students, to consult the people who will be impacted.