Hamilton

McMaster smoking ban will leave medicinal pot users in pain, user says

McMaster University's ban on smoking will totally disrupt the professional lives of some medicinal marijuana users, an advocate says.

Ban comes into effect on Jan. 1, and includes all smoking and vaping

Ashley Cooney, seen here with her pet ball python Monty, says smoking medicinal marijuana helps her with a litany of medical issues and helps her work productively. (Ashley Cooney)

If McMaster University's highly publicized ban on smoking is strictly enforced when it comes into effect on Jan. 1, Ashley Cooney isn't sure how she's going to be able to go to work.

Cooney suffers from depression, anxiety, chronic nerve pain and digestive issues. She smokes prescribed medicinal marijuana to alleviate those problems. She also works on a McMaster University property — and she says if she can't smoke pot, she can't work.

"I would end up having to leave. My sick days would go through the roof again, because I would have to go home all the time when I'm in too much pain to be able to handle it with no medication," she told CBC News.

​"Now [using medicinal marijuana] I'm not missing time off of work, I'm not always sick, I'm not always in pain, I'm able to function again."

It's a great idea to ban smoking, as long as they focus on those who choose to smoke, rather than those of us who need it for medical reasons.- Ashley Cooney, medicinal marijuana user

When McMaster announced the upcoming smoking ban last month, it included medicinal marijuana and vaping.

"Cannabis would be included in [the ban], but there are other forms that are available for individuals prescribed medical marijuana," said McMaster Assistant Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Wanda McKenna last month.

Ban is 'premature and ill informed,' researcher says

Medicinal pot is available in other forms like pills and oils, but Cooney says for some users, that won't be an option.

"For depression, anxiety, even just extreme pain, the edibles do nothing at all for me," she said. "You need the instant relief of the herb."

McMaster University has banned smoking on all its campuses starting in 2018. That move has some medicinal marijuana users wondering about what that will mean for them. (The Associated Press)

Zach Walsh, a professor at the University of British Columbia and a cannabis and substance abuse researcher, told CBC News that the ban seems "premature and ill informed."

"I think [the ban] is crazy," Walsh said.

Edible marijuana, he said, has a much slower onset of effects, and a much longer active period. That means it may work well for long term, chronic pain sufferers, but wouldn't work as well for acute pain or other disorders. Inhaled pot almost immediately crosses the blood-brain barrier, and so its effects are felt much faster.

"You need instant relief for some things, like migraines or panic attacks," Cooney said. "You're not going to get much benefit from an edible, because it can take an hour to kick in."

"For medicinal users, it's kind of an infringement on our charter rights, or even our human rights."

But is it?

Could the ban be challenged in court?

Michael Garbuz, a lawyer and member of cannabis industry group CannaRoyalty, told CBC News that it's "difficult to say" if a legal challenge of McMaster's ban could be successful.

"It's hard to say — these are fast changing laws," he said. "There's definitely an argument to be made."

"There are some people for whom smoking of cannabis is more helpful for their symptoms," he said — but added that there is more anecdotal evidence to support that claim than verifiable scientific studies on the subject.

Garbuz said that it's been clearly stated that once Canada's legalization laws come into effect, people will only legally be able to smoke pot in their own residences. Legally, McMaster has put itself on "better footing" when it comes to any kind of court challenge by allowing edible options for marijuana on campus, he said.

"That way, people do still have an option to consume," he said.

But for Cooney, that will mean little.

"It's a great idea to ban smoking, as long as they focus on those who choose to smoke, rather than those of us who need it for medical reasons," she said.

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Hamilton home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

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