New Brunswick

Cannabis legalization has cultivated more conversation, say student leaders

A group of post-secondary student leaders say legalization has gone well on their campuses, thanks to education and awareness. They also say it's sparked more conversation on the subject.

A group of post-secondary student leaders share their experiences about cannabis legalization on campus

From left, Elise Vaillancourt from Mount Allison University, Nai Mahoney representing New Brunswick Community College campuses and Benjamin Palmer from the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton were part of a student panel at a provincial forum on cannabis at Mount Allison University on Monday. (Kate Letterick/CBC News )

A group of post-secondary student leaders say the legalization of cannabis has gone well on their campuses.

But it's still early days, they say.

The students were part of a panel discussion at a provincial forum on cannabis at Mount Allison University on Monday.

Elise Vaillancourt, the vice-president of student life at the Mount Allison Student Union, said leading up to Oct. 17, there was a lot of collaboration between the university and the student union to make students aware of cannabis.

Vaillancourt said the university hired a mental health and harm reduction educator, who rolled out a massive educational campaign in collaboration with the student union.

"There's been a lot of questions about how much can I smoke, where can I smoke? How much can I possess? Vaillancourt said.

"So I think the education campaign is the key to just make sure that students kind of have the information that they need so that they can make informed choices should they choose to consume."

Elise Vaillancourt is the vice-president of student life at Mount Allison. She says students have been asking questions about cannabis and trying to get educated. (Kate Letterick/CBC News )

She said the main objective is to keep students safe and educated.

"There was a lot of excitement when the store first opened and there were a lot of students walking around asking, 'Have you been? Is there a line out the door?'" she said.

"I think generally students are being very responsible, so we were braced for the worst and the worst didn't happen."

Cultivating conversation

The experience was a little different at New Brunswick Community College campuses around the province.

Nai Mahoney, the student union president in Moncton who also represents the other campuses, said NBCC doesn't have residences, so that was not something they had to deal with.

Mahoney said one thing legalization has done is cultivate more conversation.

"People can approach this subject a lot easier. They feel like there is less stigma because now of course it's not illegal, you're not going to go to jail," Mahoney said.

Mahoney said people are much more open about discussing cannabis, something she hopes continues.

Nai Mahoney represents NBCC campuses across New Brunswick. She says the legalization of cannabis has sparked much more open discussion. (Kate Letterick/CBC News )

"I think it's been very important moving forward that the opinions are all educated and they come from a place of intent  good intent and, of course, with the open mindedness that is important with polarizing subjects such as cannabis," she said.

'We haven't seen a drastic change on our campus'

Benjamin Palmer, the vice-president of student life with the University of New Brunswick Student Union in Fredericton, said a cannabis working group at the university came up with a poster campaign as well as a dedicated website that can help inform students, faculty and staff.

Palmer said it's also encouraged more open conversation at his campus.

"Stigmas around conversations and what terms people use, how often questions are asked and especially to whom those questions are asked to has changed dramatically," he said.

Benjamin Palmer is the vice-president of student life at UNB in Fredericton. He says legalization has gone well at his campus. He also says it's still new and will be a learning experience. (Kate Letterick/CBC News )

"And so students are now feeling comfortable asking their residence advisors or proctors questions about cannabis consumption or speaking about it in class or with groups of friends that maybe they previously wouldn't have, so it's really changed that aspect of the social conversation."

Palmer said legalization has gone well on campus so far.

"We haven't seen a drastic change on our campus, but the conversations that people are having are much more open and candid," he said.

But all the student leaders say legalization is just under two weeks old, so there is much more information to gather.

"It's incredibly important to note though that it's so new for everyone — for legislators, regulators or the Cannabis NB company as well as students, faculty and staff and, of course health, professionals at the university," Palmer said.

"Across the board, this is a totally new experience and everyone's really learning from each experience."