The latest St. F.X. President’s Colloquium dealt with a hot button topic that is only going to get hotter in the next few months, leading into July 2018.
Understanding the legalization of cannabis was the topic for a panel discussion which included Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Strang, along with the St. F.X. psychology professor Kara Thompson and Ivan Drouin, from St. F.X. Health and Counselling, who is a registered psychologist/clinical therapist.
Strang began the discussion by talking about the objectives and potential benefits of the legalization which is being implemented by the federal Liberal government after they made it part of their campaign promises, during the 2015 election.
Thompson and Drouin were able to bring the topic closer to home, by talking about potential impact around the university campus and for the student body.
With many of the questions and concerns raised during the question and answer period of the colloquium, which was the majority of the event, the short-answer was a wait-and-see approach, with many of the rules and regulations around the legalization, including age-limit and outlets, still to be determined by the provincial government.
With so much still to be determined and the July date of legalization drawing closer, Strang was asked, by reporters following the colloquium, if he feels the government and public will be ready.
“I think we have, kind of, the broad brush strokes,” Strang said.
“The high level decisions are going to made soon by government. There is still a lot of work to do between now and July but, I think, it’s not just a question for government; tonight was [a good indication] universities, everyone, has some work to do to be prepared for this.”
With many of his answers during the colloquium, Strang would reference already in place alcohol and tobacco regulations and rules as a guideline for what could be drawn up for cannabis.
“I think there are lessons to be learned from the work we’ve done on tobacco; what have we done to, significantly, decrease tobacco use rates,” he said, referencing responsible usage.
“Our current environment with alcohol we have a lot of problems; so, I think, we need to look towards both of those and say, how do we legalize cannabis in a way that meets our stated objectives around protecting people health and safety while, at the same time, creating a legal market for adults?”
Strang agreed with a reporter’s assertion that the legalization is a “complex” issue.
“Each issue raises another layer of questions, so it’s very complex,” he said.
“There are many different competing objectives that have to be balanced here; economic objectives, creating a legal market while, at the same time, protecting youth. And, listening to the range of different opinions that are out there around cannabis, it hasn’t been easy and it will not be easy.
“We will not get it all right – and I’m not just talking about Nova Scotia – right away. That’s why I said, as I did earlier with the panel, we need to be committed to measuring the outcomes and adjusting our approach, if we’re not getting the objectives we stated.”
Strang was asked about his participation on the colloquium panel and opportunities to talk about the issue going forward.
“This was an invitation just from St. F.X.; I think there should be a lot of different places having a dialogue,” he said, noting the federal government recently committing money towards public awareness education initiatives.
“The position we’re taking in Nova Scotia is; we’ll wait to see the details coming from the federal government and then we’ll build on what they do, to continue the discussion in Nova Scotia,” Strang added.
“But, absolutely, we need to have robust and ongoing discussions in Nova Scotia, in an honest way, about what are the harms, the benefits, what are the rules going to be.
“So that starting point is; we need to be clear, once decisions are made, what are the rules for Nova Scotians going to be. Then have the conversation about how do we allow the moderate legal use by adults while doing what we can to protect youth.”
St. F.X. President Kent MacDonald described the evening’s topic as “timely.”
“It’s a conversation we’ve been trying to have for more than a year,” MacDonald said.
“This allows us to be even more informed and to try and get ahead of this pending legislative change. I was very pleased with the range of questions and the expertise of our panelists, it was outstanding, and it’s another example of us trying to have a discussion of topics, within our residences, which are both interesting and helpful to the community.”
MacDonald, like Strang, used the word ‘complex’ when talking about dealing with the new legislation on campus.
“When this first surfaced on campus, we thought, certainly I, at least, thought, it would be a straightforward change and we would just prepare for it,” he said.
“But the more conversations we have, clearly the more complex it is. So, thinking about how we’re going to respond to this in a way to ensure health and safety, for our students, staff and faculty, that’s number one. And how we roll this out, over the next few months, will also be important.
“But it’s more complex and, clearly, we have more work to do. But I’m pleased we’ve started that work already.”