How Will Legal Cannabis Affect University Policies?

byMichael Warford4 minutes

Legal adult-use cannabis is coming to Canada with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announcing its rollout in October. While marijuana legalization enjoys broad support across the country, details about how it will be implemented are still very much in flux. This includes how universities’ drug policies may be affected.

Universities and colleges are hardly strangers to cannabis. A 2012 Canadian Community Health survey found that about a third of Canadians aged 18 to 24 had consumed marijuana within the past year. Despite this fact, most universities have maintained a zero-tolerance policy towards cannabis. This policy may have to change with legal marijuana now on the horizon.

Will Students Get to Smoke Cannabis on Campus?

The answer to whether students will be able to smoke cannabis on campus is: It depends, but probably not. While Bill C-45 hasn’t officially become law yet, it will likely leave this issue up to the provinces, territories and individual universities.

Some provinces have already passed laws concerning the use of cannabis on campus. Quebec, for example, recently passed its own cannabis law that explicitly bans smoking marijuana on university and CEGEP grounds.

Other provinces and universities are likely to follow suit. It’s thought that they’ll probably try to apply the same rules to marijuana smoking as those that already exist for tobacco smoking. In other words, if smoking cigarettes is banned on campus (which is already the case for many universities in Canada), then expect smoking marijuana to be banned, too.

But What About Medicinal Marijuana? Is This Campus-Approved?

Universities that have banned all forms of smoking on campus have already found themselves in a bit of controversy for how those bans affect medical marijuana patients. Bill C-45 doesn’t explicitly address the rights of students who need cannabis for medicinal purposes.

So, whether these students can consume cannabis on campus is very much up to individual universities. Expect this topic to lead to plenty of debate and protest before a consensus is reached.


Will Universities Allow Edible Cannabis on Campus?

For the time being, universities won’t allow edible cannabis consumption on their campuses. This is because Bill C-45 won’t make edible cannabis legal until 2019. So, until then, edible marijuana will remain as illegal on campus as it already is throughout the country. Even when edible cannabis is legalized, universities will be free to set their own policies regarding its use and consumption.

Will Student Residences Allow for Marijuana Possession & Consumption?

When it comes to student residences and whether it’s permissible for these residences to allow marijuana on their premises, the situation is actually a bit tricky. This is because many of the people living in university residences will still be too young to legally consume it come October. Most provinces and territories have set the minimum legal age for marijuana consumption at 19. Alberta and Quebec are the two exceptions, setting their minimum age at 18. Students who don’t meet this age threshold won’t be allowed to consume cannabis while in residence.

That said, students who do meet the age threshold may still be prohibited from consuming cannabis at residence. Why? Because provincial laws, such as Quebec’s, may make smoking marijuana illegal on campus, which would include student residences.

Even if provincial law doesn’t take a stance on the issue, universities themselves are still free to dictate whether cannabis can be consumed or even grown on university grounds. Few universities have yet to release their policies surrounding cannabis use on campus, but it’s likely that they’ll mimic their current policies surrounding tobacco and alcohol.

How Can Universities Ban Cannabis After It’s Legalized?

Cannabis is being legalized partly so that it can be better regulated. Part of regulation addresses when and where cannabis can be consumed on public and private property. Just as universities are free to regulate cigarettes and alcohol consumption on campus, they’re also free to regulate cannabis consumption.

Punishments for violating those rules will mostly be up to the universities. In provinces where smoking marijuana on campus is a minor criminal offence, expect fines to be the norm. Universities themselves could even choose to expel a student who violates these bans, although such action would probably be considered extreme once legalization kicks in.

Will There Be Designated Areas for Cannabis on Campus?

Universities are debating whether to designate specific areas for cannabis consumption on campus right now. It’s likely that different universities will take different approaches. Some universities may opt to only allow cannabis consumption in currently designated cigarette smoking areas. However, as this proposal isn’t popular with some cannabis consumers who don’t like being around cigarette smoke, another option is to create separate areas for cannabis consumers and tobacco users.

Will I Be Able to Buy Marijuana on Campus?

Some students are likely wondering if they’ll be able to buy cannabis on campus. Chances are if cigarettes or alcohol aren’t currently sold at a university, then cannabis won’t be either.

As it is, how cannabis is sold is determined by each province. Some provinces, such as Ontario, have decided to restrict cannabis sales to government-run stores. Other provinces, including Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador, will allow private retailers to also sell cannabis.

That said, some have suggested creating cannabis lounges on university grounds. These would be similar to campus bars, but exclusively for the sale and consumption of cannabis. While no university has yet to formally announce plans for the creation of a campus cannabis lounge, it’s something that may happen further down the line.


When it comes to cannabis legalization in Canada, the details are still very much a work in progress. That remains as true for university and college policies as it does for federal and provincial laws. So, before heading back to class this fall, be sure you know your university’s marijuana policies before you consume.

Photo credit: Vasily Koloda