How BCIT’s Cannabis Policy Was Hashed Out
BCIT’s cannabis policy prohibits the use of recreational marijuana across all campus premises. Executives say that cannabis could pose risks to curriculums that operate heavy machinery, but some students are questioning the ban.
October 17th marks one
year since the Cannabis Act became law. Marijuana became legal to be consumed, carried, and shared for all persons aged 18 years or above. Leading up to legalization, many expected total reefer madness to dawn upon the country— car accidents going up, grades going down, and the skunky aroma of weed diffusing into the atmosphere.
As it turned out, all this fearmongering was blown out of proportion.
The rollout of weed supply has been tame and minimal so far. The legal cannabis industry has been evolving at a snail’s pace due to shortages and slow distribution.1 For one, B.C. police have reported zero charges of pot-impaired driving.2
This is even the case for colleges and universities. Sure, post-secondary aged students make up the largest demographic that consumes cannabis,3 but most students still show up to class every day without letting weed thwart their intentions of graduating on time. At BCIT, any recorded incidents of cannabis impairment are kept mum.
Schools like UBC and SFU are allowing designated areas for pot-smoking, but most Canadian institutions disallow all non-medical marijuana use on campus. BCIT part of the latter.
BCIT’s current policy—approved by the Board of Governors in May 2018—strictly prohibits the use, sale, manufacturing, and distribution of cannabis on all campus premises and BCIT-associated events off-campus, including student residences. There is no place for anyone to smoke weed on campus, not even in the semi-private space of a dorm.
Lisa Collins, BCIT’s VP for Students, says the primary concern was the ‘safety-sensitive’ nature of the programs offered at BCIT. Collins explains, “Given that a lot of our students are operating heavy equipment or precision medical devices, [banning cannabis] was determined as the best approach for BCIT.”
Is a hardline marijuana ban necessary at BCIT? If the issue is in-class impairment, BCIT’s aversion to marijuana is especially harsh compared to their alcohol and tobacco policies. Perhaps it is the novelty of legal cannabis that is preventing them from granting some allowance, but since it’s been an uneventful first year of legalization, you’d expect the stigma around weed to dwindle down. When (or possibly if) the policy gets reviewed, making the regulations laxer wouldn’t hurt.
Collins says that there was no strong reaction to the initial policy passed in May of last year, and until feedback warrants a change, there are no plans to update it as of now. The initial policy statement specified a review date of May 29th, 2019, but the policy has been put off as a result. “Having said that,” assures Collins. “All policies, including this one, they evolve over time to suit changing needs and circumstances.”
BCIT’s cannabis policy will be revisited at some point, but it is a question of when. Around May of this year, Vasiliy Baryshnikov, the BCIT Board of Governors’ Student Representative, inquired when the policy review could take place. He tells me that he received a response saying the review will likely be conducted closer to the anniversary of the Cannabis Act.
Attention, BCIT potheads. That’s this month in October. If you need have any gripes about the ban, now is the time to be blunt.
Despite the cannabis ban, stoners do walk among the BCIT student body, but they have to go through lengths to avoid school property. Across Canada, roughly 37% of university students self-reported to marijuana usage, according to Maclean’s annual survey.4 They do call it ‘higher education’ after all, and BCIT should be no different.
Jamie Hoenisch, who is finishing his program in mechatronics, says he grew up his whole life smoking weed, but he tries to limit his intake during his studies. He does say, however, that the policy is unfair. Upon hearing more about the policy, he fumed at ban. “What bothers me,” proclaims Hoenisch, “Is that it’s simply an old man’s group of people saying, ‘Well, we don’t like weed, so we’re going to ban it and not allow it to happen.’ But where are the people up in arms?”
According to Hoenisch, there is a double standard between BCIT’s marijuana and alcohol policies. “If the argument is that there’s heavy machinery, why is there a bar allowed on campus?” asks Hoenisch. “People can go to the bar, drink to their hearts’ content and then go attend a power lab with heavy machinery. How is that not the same [as marijuana]?”
One key difference is smoke. Lisa Collins says smoke is one of the factors that distinguished their cannabis and alcohol policy. “The thinking was that smoke—or particularly cannabis smoke in student housing—can affect others’ safety and comfort on campus,” she explains. The committee kept in mind that the distinctive smell of cannabis smoke could permeate the atmosphere, as well as be inhaled second-hand.
That still does not explain why cigarettes are allowed and edibles are banned. Tobacco smoke is allowed in specified areas like building entrances and parkades. The presence of cigarette smoke can also be intrusive and discomforting, but because smokers generally abide by the rules, classrooms remain smoke-free.
This brings us back to the issue of impairment. BCIT is by no means considered a party school. They made a reputation for themselves as a course-heavy grind school with mostly work, very little play. BCIT was not even mentioned when Maclean’s surveyed the top post-secondary schools with the most cannabis use.
Still, it would be difficult for BCIT to escape cannabis. Inhaling a few doses can relieve stress, and for a school where it’s constantly crunch time, you would expect a number of students to partake in a few puffs.
Robin [who does not wish to be identified] is a student who lives in residence. He says he complies with school regulations and smokes cannabis outside campus. Unlike drinking alcohol in the dorms, smoking can set off fire alarms, so he understands why the ban would also apply to student housing. However, he longs for a space near residence designated for cannabis use. “It actually has been brought up in set rep meetings to provide somewhere, at least for the housing community, to be able to smoke on campus,” reveals Robin. “Then we were basically just told, ‘Well, why not just focus on your studies?’”
As a small experiment, I went around BCIT to ask a few students about marijuana use on campus. The students I encountered paid no mind to the cannabis ban. Plenty did not spare the policy a second glance, and if they did, they had no intention to engage in battles with the Board of Governors. One student, Tony, is studying mechanical engineering; he is willing to comply with anti-pot regulation. He says, “You’ve got to follow the rules and it’s not too easy to change them just for the select amount of people that want to use it on a daily basis, whether it’s medical or not.”
No questions asked from Tony, but he does touch upon the precise communication gap between pro-cannabis students and the policy makers: the rules won’t be easy to change.
Before the policy’s initial review date (May 2019), Lisa Collins says an environmental scan was set forth by BCIT Safety, Security, & Emergency Management. It was a check-in with the policy’s stakeholder bodies, including the BCITSA, Housing, and Government Relations. None of the stakeholders were able to successfully raise major issues in the policy. Hence, the policy review was delayed to an indefinite time. “During that environmental scan, stakeholders responded positively to the current Cannabis policy. And as a result, at this time, we’re not recommending any change.”
Jamie Hoenisch does not recall any active callouts to be consulted on the marijuana policy, nor does he buy the thoroughness of the environmental scan. “If they talked to any three people,” he hypothesizes. “They would have found one person that was not accepting of the policy. And even people who probably don’t smoke marijuana probably don’t think it’s a fair policy.”
“I guessed my activism was going to be necessary in this case,” he recalls. “I heard about the policy when they were implementing it and I didn’t agree with it at the time, but I didn’t say anything. I thought there was going to be other people saying something.”
Just as my conversation with Jamie Hoenisch was about to end, we just happened to run into Vasiliy Baryshnikov, the student representative for BCIT’s Board of Governors. Baryshnikov’s job is to put forth a student perspective in developing policies for the school. Immediately, Hoenisch relays his concerns to Baryshnikov, asking, “They don’t want people stoned at the machine shop, but do they want people drunk at the machine shop? Because there’s a bar. If that’s the case, they should shut down the bar.”
Baryshnikov listens intently as Hoenisch questions the ban’s enforcement. Baryshnikov says he is in full agreement with banning weed in classes (particularly near heavy equipment and machinery), but he acknowledges that banning cannabis-smoking around the residences is debatable. Still, he says enforcing the allowance of marijuana would be hard to pull off, especially when it comes to liability and protections.
“Most of the policies that are put in place is there to protect the institute (BCIT) as an organization,” informs Baryshnikov. “If something happens and then BCIT gets sued and is held responsible. They can say, ‘Well, we had a policy in place.”
There is also a possibility that BCIT could move to an even harder line—removing smoking of any substance altogether. Kwantlen, Langara, and Douglas are all smoke-free institutions, and BCIT could follow suit.
Whenever the policy gets revisited, whichever direction the policy evolves remains to be seen. Hoenisch would obviously be opposed to the smoke-free solution. Instead, he says a better solution would be a designated cannabis smoking area. He describes, “A little room or a building, maybe a third of the size of the [Habitat] bar where people are allowed to smoke weed inside. Then you’re not smoking weed outside and you just have ventilation.”
Findings by the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) support his proposition. In a document they submitted to the UBC Cannabis Development Policy Committee, they say that designated areas would respect the wishes of both cannabis users and those who do not want to be exposed to cannabis smoke. But a vapor lounge, they say, would create the most compromise. CSSDP tells the committee, “Investing in spaces to vaporize cannabis rather than to smoke maintains efforts for a smoke-free campus and encourages a healthier mode of consumption.”4
At the end of the exchange, Baryshnikov invited Hoenisch to attend the next open meeting for the Board of Governors. At the time we met with him, he had still yet to find out what would be on the agenda, if the cannabis policy would even be addressed.
Making any significant revisions to the policy, to the dismay of Hoenisch and other pro-pot students, would not be a stone’s throw away. Baryshnikov explains, “One of my misconceptions at the beginning is that things are getting done at the meetings. No, things are being rubber-stamped at the meetings. It’s really hard to reverse.”
Hoenisch will be graduating this year, so he may not see any changes happen while he is still at BCIT. After he graduates, he says it’s not likely he’ll look back, so any activism he chooses to engage at the present time will be cut short. His stakes in this cause are low, but he told me that if her were to take any action, it would be for taking a moral stand.
As both men were courteously wrapping their exchange, at one point Hoenisch tells Baryshnikov, “I might show up to that [Board of Governors] open session, and if I do, I will be loud.”
1. Brownwell, Claire. 2018. Cannabis at Canadian Universities: Which schools and programs report highest use? October 11.
2. Little, Simon, and Sarah MacDonald. 2019. No B.C. driver has been criminally charged with cannabis impairment since legalization. July 31. globalnews.ca/news/5707367/bc-cannabis-impaired-driving-no-charges-since-legalization
3. Davis, Anthony A. 2018. Canadian universities tackle legal cannabis with wildly different policies. October 11. macleans.ca/education/university-rankings/canadian-universities-tackle-legal-cannabis-with-wildly-different-policies/
4. Policy, Canadian Students for Sensible Drug. 2018. Cannabis on Campus: A Student Dialogue. Submission to the UBC Cannabis Policy Development Committee, Vancouver: CSSDP