Shortly after the legalization of cannabis on Oct. 17, 2018, the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University (SAMRU) released a statement regarding their eagerness to implement a designated cannabis area on campus.
However, a city bylaw prohibiting cannabis smoking, vaping and consumption in public spaces has been stopping them from following through.
The statement, posted on Oct. 23, 2018, addressed their disappointment in the bylaws, suggesting that policy ‘created through the lens of abstinence,’ encourages the stigma.
“It was important that students knew that we were taking a harm-reduction approach. Part of that, is giving students a choice. Obviously, the safest choice is abstinence but there [are] other things that follow that,” says Shayla Breen, SAMRU’s vice-president of student affairs.
“When you don’t give that space for people to make that choice, the likelihood is that they’re not going to want to talk to their doctor, to our mental health nurses, to a counsellor, [about] accessibility for academic accommodations if they have medicinal [cannabis needs] ... We’re just really worried about the health and safety of our students.”
Breen says students have been very supportive of SAMRU’s desired designated cannabis area, however, the City of Calgary’s statistics show otherwise.
“When we drilled down to the numbers, we saw that roughly three quarters [of Calgarians] didn’t want to see cannabis in public spaces so we took that into account,” says Matt Zabloski, business strategist for the City of Calgary Community Standard and project-lead for the city’s cannabis initiatives.
Zabloski says Calgary’s cannabis consumption policies closely mirror those regarding alcohol consumption, which is prohibited publicly. He adds that there are a few ways around these policies though.
The first way is bringing a motion to council to have a designated cannabis consumption area. The second, which Zabloski regards as the easiest way, is to create a space on site where only students and faculty can consume cannabis.
“It’s not as if the bylaw would allow it, the bylaw just wouldn’t apply in that case,” says Zabloski.
“The key piece of that though, is that you would have to ensure the public [does] not have access to that space — that’s where the bylaw would apply.”
Breen says there are many different opinions about whether or not Mount Royal could pursue the second option because the school exists on land owned by the City of Calgary.
Steve Fitterer, Mount Royal’s vice-president of Student Affairs and Campus Life, officially confirmed that the school is working with other campus representatives to address how to manage cannabis consumption on campus.
“We decided to update our smoking policy to include cannabis. As part of that, our current designated tobacco smoking areas have remained, and we are providing education on programs and resources available with a focus on harm reduction.
“While we continue to explore our options, the City does not permit the smoking of cannabis in public places. Given this, we are abiding by the city's bylaws,” he said.
Breen says she is hopeful that the relationships SAMRU has established with Calgary City Council and Mount Royal will lead to this project being carried out.
“Hopefully, we’ll have something here by the time I’m done as the VP of student affairs. If not, I’m hoping that someone from the next round of executives will want to carry out this project,” she says.
“We don’t need 20 [cannabis consumption sites] here but one would be good.”
- By Sam Nar and Isabelle Bennett