The Legalization of Marijuana: What UBC Students Need to Know

A lot has happened recently in national news that should be on the radar of every concerned Canadian — Québec has just elected to government a centre-right to right-wing nationalist party (the Coalition Avenir Québec), Trudeau’s Liberals have moved to end the solitary confinement of federal prisoners with the goals of rehabilitation and proper mental health care, and Doug Ford’s cancelling of Ontario’s cap-and-trade environmental policy is predicted to cost the provincial government $3 billion in revenue. And yet, despite these major national developments, there remains a single policy decision on everyone’s mind — one that, incidentally, has put Canada at the centre of an increasingly salient international debate on the subject. As divisive as it is, and whether you personally like it or not, the government of Canada has legalized the use of recreational marijuana.

First of all, how did we get here? Cannabis became recreationally illegal in Canada on April 23rd of 1923 after prompting from the League of Nations. At the time, however, due to its unpopularity and cultural unacceptability, its use was not of particular concern to law enforcement or the public. It wasn’t until the 60s and 70s when the drug’s popularity grew, especially among an increasingly vocal youth population, that marijuana-related arrests climbed, and the issue became a controversial one. The Canadian experience largely mirrors the American one in this respect, with both countries’ cultural transformations exploding out of the hippie/free love movements that occurred around the same time. Legalization was not yet on the table, but medical commissions did recommend decriminalization (the act of a state or jurisdiction loosening or reducing the severity of penalties associated with a crime rather than outright sponsoring or sanctioning it).

Cut to 2001 — after a long-fought battle, Cannabis became legal to utilize medicinally across the nation. The use of Cannabis offers a number of significant benefits for those suffering from a variety of serious medical conditions, including epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease, as well as for those undergoing chemotherapy and treatment for HIV/AIDS. For such patients, it can be a life-changing addition to their health care regiments, and provide relief from debilitating symptoms that might otherwise go unmitigated.

That’s not to say however that the use of Cannabis is without potential risks. Further research is required (urgently now more than ever) to determine the long-term health ramifications for marijuana users, particularly those in adolescence and early adulthood. The short-term adverse effects include impaired cognition, tiredness, dizziness, and changes to the cardiovascular system, all which pose secondary risk factors, including notably severe impairment while driving. Those who choose to smoke their marijuana are also at risk for acute bronchitis, and damage to pulmonary cilia.

On June 19th of 2018, the Government of Canada announced that the recreational use of marijuana would become legal as of October 17th. This after decades of lobbying and protesting from activist groups, and countless arrests and convictions. But now that we’re here, there are specific things that you as a UBC student need to know:

  • You must be 19 years of age in BC to purchase Cannabis (like for liquor, the age is 18 in Alberta).
  • You are allowed to carry a maximum of 30 grams of dried Cannabis in public, or an edible of 150 grams.
  • If you are in a vehicle, your cannabis must be sealed and inaccessible to everyone in the vehicle.
  • Smoking Cannabis on campus is prohibited in any place that smoking tobacco is prohibited, including inside university buildings, bus shelters, and within eight metres of doors or air intakes. It is however legal to smoke Cannabis in most places where smoking tobacco is permitted, excluding notably skate parks and sports fields, or anywhere else where children commonly gather.
  • Smoking, vaporizing, or inhaling Cannabis is not permitted in any student residence.
  • Edibles are currently illegal to sell, therefore any edibles you purchase are being sold illegally. Legislation for the sale of edibles will be written in the coming months.
  • The government of BC has not yet actually approved any licences for privately-owned Cannabis dispensaries, and Kamloops is the only British Columbian city with a government-operated brick-and-mortar store already open. That means that any stores operating are technically still illegal, and raids are still possible.
  • Cannabis can be legally purchased online using the official Government of BC website (which will not be linked to here).

Please consume and enjoy responsibly.

Image credits: Ellen Jaskol/Saloman Micko Benrimoh