U of A working group recommends designating areas for cannabis use on campus

Proposal among 19 recommendations in report to university administration.

A University of Alberta group tasked with examining the issues surrounding the use of cannabis on its campuses is recommending the university designate a limited number of spaces for people to consume the drug once it becomes legal on Oct. 17.

The proposal is among 19 recommendations the university's cannabis working group made in its report to administration.

Still time for discussion

Although the U of A's cannabis working group has submitted a report with recommendations, it's interested in getting additional feedback from the community. Did the group miss anything? Are there flaws in the recommendations?

Let the working group know by filling out this form.

"Assuming the city permits use in public, we believe we should align with the laws and values of the surrounding community," said Steve Dew, U of A provost and vice-president (academic).

"Thousands of people live on our campuses in university residences, and we know a number of them are going to smoke or vape cannabis," he said. "Without designated spaces to use it, they would have to leave the property."

The working group spent months consulting with stakeholders on campus, examining a wide range of issues, from cannabis consumption to research.

Key recommendations in the report include:

  • Permit smoking and vaping of cannabis products on university campuses to a limited number of locations that are safe, accessible and in compliance with all legislation.
  • Prohibit growing, smoking or vaping cannabis products inside residence buildings, and prohibit cooking with cannabis products. (These activities are not permitted within any university building.)
  • Prohibit any form of consumption of cannabis products at university events, including student group events, for at least one year, to assess liability and other risks.
  • Prohibit sales, advertising, branding and sponsorship of cannabis products on university campuses or at university events.
  • Recognize that cannabis is not a benign substance and immediately begin to develop harm reduction strategies for staff and students.
  • Complete a workplace impairment policy (now underway), including education, communication and training for front-line staff and supervisors.

Kevin Friese, the assistant dean of students for health and wellness who co-chaired the cannabis working group, noted that not everyone supports the use of cannabis use on campus, but said he hopes administrators can address their objections by limiting the number of consumption zones and placing them at a reasonable distance from non-users.

"At the same time, we hope to address the wishes and expectations of a significant number of people within our community who support consumption on our properties," he added.

Next steps

In the weeks leading up to Oct. 17, administrators will begin evaluating where cannabis consumption zones might be located and developing programs to help inform students and staff about safe use of cannabis.

"The university also has to be ready to alter its course," Dew said.

The City of Edmonton has not made a final decision about its Public Places Bylaw, which sets out the restrictions concerning where and when cannabis, as well as tobacco, can be consumed in public, the provost explained.

"If the city elects to ban public consumption, the university will follow."

As for enforcement, the university's peace officers will have the authority to enforce laws and university policy, and will do so when needed, Friese explained.

If a student creates a disruption due to intoxication, the university has a process to respond through the provisions of the code of student behaviour.

There's also a process for employees. "Staff are responsible adults capable of making their own decisions about appropriate behaviour at work. We will, however, use the opportunity to educate managers and others about how to identify and respond when a worker appears unfit for duty. This will be supported by a new policy that speaks to all forms of impairment," Dew said.

The report and its recommendations have been tentatively accepted by the university's administration. It will be further discussed at the next General Faculties Council meeting, scheduled for Sept. 24.