McLegalization: Cannabis Culture on Campus

Graphic by Ryan London with images from Creative Commons.

To protect the names of individuals who are involved in the production and sale of cannabis, as well as those who are uncomfortable with releasing their identity, certain names will be changed to uphold anonymity.


A Unique Case

As of October 17, Prime Minister Trudeau declared cannabis to be “legalized and strictly regulated” across Canada. In this address, the Trudeau government emphasized that legalization would  “keep cannabis away from the hands of our kids, and keep profits away from organized crime.” However, with provincial autonomy regarding implementation of the federal Cannabis Act, regions like Quebec have put forth policy platforms that may conflict with the ends of federal legislation.

Quebec’s Cannabis Regulation Act currently prohibits both the growth and sale of cannabis outside of government distribution, resulting in a government monopoly over the entire legal market. On October 2, Quebec elected the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) to a majority government in the National Assembly, and the party has expressed its commitment to preserve Quebecois uniqueness in the handling of legalization. The CAQ is not only enforcing the current prohibition of non-governmental production, but also intends to raise the legal age of cannabis consumption to 21. Since McGill is subject to this jurisdiction, changes regarding cannabis policy on campus will evolve alongside provincial guidelines. In an effort to determine how this will affect the McGill community, The Bull & Bear sat down with students and vendors whose consumption and distribution will be affected by the province’s unique approach to legalization.


Student Perspectives: A Shift in Campus Culture

Frequent cannabis user and McGill student, “Sylvia”, was asked how she thought campus culture was going to change in the wake of legalization. She stated, “I think the stigma around it will definitely change. Once the government normalizes something as pivotal as this, the stigma is definitely suppressed, and cannabis culture becomes more central”.

Alternatively, Arts and Sciences student Hailey White believes that, “the people who are going to be walking around campus high before legalization, are the same people walking around campus high today.”

U1 student, Noah Givertz, stated that “at least in [the] short term, there will not be complete acceptance of cannabis.” Givertz went on to compare cannabis legalization to the societal acceptance of alcohol after prohibition. “Alcohol has influenced history, it has been a part of history… cannabis has unfortunately not done so. There will never be an OAP where you can buy a joint, and we will probably not see any weed-themed apartment crawls.”

Despite the wide variance of testimonies regarding the role that cannabis culture may have on campus going forward, a common sentiment exists nonetheless. All three students interviewed believe cannabis to be a safe and positive stress reducer. Sylvia stated, “I have anxiety, and weed is something I’ve learned really helps, especially around exam time.” Givertz feels cannabis is a much safer alternative to alcohol, remarking: “I’ve had friends [who have had] to go to the hospital to get their stomach pumped. Weed has never done that to anyone I know. It’s always just felt safer.” When White was asked how the legal sale of cannabis will affect students who have never tried cannabis before, she stated: “maybe it will [even] open up a new avenue of [stress] relief for students who have been opposed to weed in the past.”

Despite differing stances given by Sylvia, Givertz and White surrounding the integration of cannabis, there remains a prevailing sentiment that the substance has stress relieving properties.


The McGill Administration: An Evolving Mandate

McGill’s Associate Dean of Students, Glenn Zabowsky, is still skeptical about whether or not cannabis will provide the benefits that students seem to agree it has. He stated to The Bull & Bear, “We are going to monitor the situation on campus and see how things go. However, we don’t yet know if cannabis will be a sufficient stress reliever.”

Zabowsky spoke of his experience at the Cannabis on Campus conference in Toronto, an event attended by representatives from many Canadian schools and cannabis experts discussing cannabis’ role on campus. Zabowsky spoke of how this issue is “much more complex than cigarettes or alcohol.” To deal with these complexities, McGill’s Provost, Christopher Manfredi, released various interim guidelines regarding consumption on campus. These guidelines were made public on October 12 and prohibit vaping, smoking, and consuming edible cannabis on campus. The first two specifications are in line with provincial legislation, while the third is exclusively a McGill initiative.

Zabowsky disclosed that the eventual policy, which will be published in accordance with these interim guidelines, will address drugs, alcohol, and overall mental fitness regarding substance use. It is not going to be a cannabis specific policy. These statements and guidelines demonstrate that the administration is aware of the unique circumstances surrounding cannabis, despite its proposed eventual implementation of non-cannabis-specific regulations.

Zabowsky sees actions like the interim guidelines as a means of proactively addressing the complexities of legalization and its place on campus. He explained, “parents are going to be calling, the media will be calling, and we need an official line to point to.” Until McGill’s official release of a policy platform for the substance, these interim guidelines act as the current enforceable framework for regulation on campus.


The Black Market and Its Relevance Post-Legalization

“Mike the Vendor” was himself a distributor of cannabis prior to legalization and was described by former Gardner hall resident, “Jared”, as “Upper Residence’s favourite distributor”. When asked how he thought legalization was going to affect the jobs of vendors, growers, and distributors who had been previously part of the illegal cannabis market, “Mike” responded that these jobs “remain very much present and important.” He continued, “Even if governments do not admit it, they have quietly been seeking information and education from these people in order to figure out how to implement legislation. The government is aware that there is a community of people who have been in this domain for a long time who possess an important amount of expertise and knowledge. This is knowledge that is not necessarily conventionally recognized, but valuable nonetheless.”

After considering the importance of distributor expertise for government purposes, “Mike” spoke of how the cannabis black market does not constitute an immoral practice. He stated, “people often confuse morality and legality, forgetting that things like slavery or domestic violence were once legal.”

With Quebec’s legal cannabis market remaining a government monopoly,  demand for an alternative illegal market still exists. The CBC has reported on the Quebec government’s constant shortages of cannabis inventory in provincial stores. In their article regarding Quebecois legalization, it’s clear that the government has not adequately prepared to meet the demands of their citizens. With no legal alternative, vendors like Mike meet the left-over demand not met by government supply shortages.


Cannabis Culture: Constantly in Flux

Despite differing perspectives from across the student body, it seems that many share a common sentiment: cannabis is an effective stress reducer. Whether or not the substance will be completely accepted into campus culture is a question that remains unanswered. While interim guidelines are in the process of becoming ratified as school policy, the official stance regarding cannabis on campus will evolve accordingly. Currently, however, Quebec and the country as a whole continue to tweak existing policies on cannabis, and the fate of vendors like Mike may change. For now, due to Quebec’s uniquely strict regulations, there remains a demand for black market distribution both on and off campus.

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