Step 1: Considerations for Your Campus

The strategy and time it will take to develop a cannabis-use framework for your institution will depend on a variety of factors, including the prevalence of cannabis use in your institution as well as the size and type of campus.

Stakeholders

Development and implementation of a campus cannabis framework will more likely be effective if someone within the campus champions the effort and helps start the process with a goal, objective, a timeline, and a directive to bring stakeholders together as a committee. This committee should consist of individuals who represent your institution’s administration, the student union, faculty, security, health and safety, clinical services, unions, and maintenance. Consider also tapping into the considerable expertise offered by community health and mental health organizations (such as public health units, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, and the Canadian Mental Health Association).

The downside of wide representation on a committee can be a lack of focus and ownership of the framework.[1]Leave the Pack Behind (2011). Tobacco-free Campus Guide. Retrieved from: https://www.leavethepackbehind.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Tobacco_Free_Campus_Guide_web_final.pdf This can be compounded by the significant time that can pass between its development and implementation. This challenge can be minimized by setting a specific and reasonable timeline, such as six months for six meetings, to work out a framework suitable for submission to the institution’s governing body or legal department. Consultation with the student population throughout the process of development, implementation, and evaluation is also critical to the framework’s successful implementation.

References   [ + ]

1. Leave the Pack Behind (2011). Tobacco-free Campus Guide. Retrieved from: https://www.leavethepackbehind.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Tobacco_Free_Campus_Guide_web_final.pdf
Review the current climate

Your committee’s first step in developing a cannabis framework will be to examine your institution’s policies regarding cannabis and compare them to those of other institutions. It would also be good practice to align your cannabis framework with existing campus policies regarding substance use. Consider using a survey to gauge cannabis use levels, attitudes towards and beliefs about cannabis, and campus support for a framework. This will also help gather baseline measures on which to build future evaluations. Understanding rates of cannabis use and other attitudes on your own campus will help you develop a framework that is specific to your campus.

Medical use

Your campus’ student and employee accommodation policies related to the use of cannabis for medical purposes should be revisited to see if they require any changes in relation to new cannabis legislation.

Incorporation of harm reduction lens

Cannabis education design should include student focus groups to ensure that the resulting policies and education are relevant to them. For example, findings that there may be a lack of awareness of the negative effects of cannabis would point to the need for education about the health and legal consequences of using cannabis.

This awareness could be achieved by targeting students’ personal priorities and making the potential for long-term consequences clear. For instance, an education campaign could illustrate how the biological effects of cannabis on the brain and body can affect academic and athletic performance. A social norm campaign could provide information on the actual prevalence of drug use among youth on campus, thus busting the myth that “everyone is doing it.”

Education should be one piece of a multifaceted approach to prevention. Many youth claim that a lack of information about the positive effects of cannabis makes the information about the harmful effects appear overstated, leading youth to disregard negative claims entirely.[1]McKiernan, A. (2017). Canadian youth perceptions on cannabis. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Accessed from: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Canadian-Youth-Perceptions-on-Cannabis-Report-2017-en.pdf Presenting a balanced approach that shows the research on the harms as well as the potential subjective benefits of cannabis (such as relaxation, stress reduction, etc.) would be more persuasive.

Students would also benefit from evidence and guidelines on how to reduce their risk of harm if and when they use cannabis.[2]Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse (2011). Lower Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines. Accessed from: http://crismontario.ca/research-projects/lower-risk-cannabis-use-guidelines Some students will choose to use cannabis regardless of the risks, so resources would be better spent to decrease risky behaviour rather than trying to encourage abstinence.[3]Leslie, K. M. (2008). Harm reduction: An approach to reducing risky health behaviours in adolescents. Paediatr Child Health, 13(1), 53-6. [4]Poulin, C. (2006). Harm reduction policies and programs for youth. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

References   [ + ]

1. McKiernan, A. (2017). Canadian youth perceptions on cannabis. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Accessed from: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Canadian-Youth-Perceptions-on-Cannabis-Report-2017-en.pdf
2. Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse (2011). Lower Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines. Accessed from: http://crismontario.ca/research-projects/lower-risk-cannabis-use-guidelines
3. Leslie, K. M. (2008). Harm reduction: An approach to reducing risky health behaviours in adolescents. Paediatr Child Health, 13(1), 53-6.
4. Poulin, C. (2006). Harm reduction policies and programs for youth. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.
Guide: PDF Version