A University of Manitoba student is hoping to spark a debate about all things pot by recruiting fellow students to join a medical marijuana club on campus — the first of its kind in Canada.
With students returning to the U of M’s campus for fall semester, club founder Steven Stairs set up a table at the university’s recruitment week, displaying several strains of marijuana to promote his new group. It was a far cry from some of the more traditional groups, like photography club or book club, but Stairs says it’s generating interest.
“I got 25 (new students to join) in about a half hour … and I’ve gotten one or two in the past five minutes,” Stairs told CTV News this week. Stairs says more than 30 students in total have joined the club — a list that continues to grow — and that all aspects of the club are legal. In Stairs’ case, he uses marijuana to relieve the pain from his glaucoma. On campus, he is allowed to use a smokeless vapourizer to ingest the drug.
But he believes his fellow students are becoming more interested because the topic of marijuana has gone mainstream in recent months. “Going forward, it seems to be that Canada is leaning toward a much more progressive stance on marijuana,” he said. The topic sparked a national debate this summer after Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau revealed he had smoked pot at least once since becoming an MP. Several politicians then also admitted to using the drug at some point in the past, including Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
A recent proposal by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police also garnered much attention, suggesting that Canada’s police forces should be handing out tickets rather than criminal charges for pot possession. A poll conducted by Forum Research in late August found relaxing the rules concerning marijuana is overwhelmingly favoured by Canadians: 70 per cent said they wanted it either legalized (36%) or decriminalized (34%).
But Royce Koop, a political scientist at the University of Manitoba, says he thinks it is unlikely that marijuana will be an election issue. “It doesn’t really rank that high compared to things like the economy or health care,” Koop said. “It’s way down on the list for most people.” The federal government has said that it is possible that ticketing pot users could happen someday but it currently has no intention of legalizing marijuana.
According to the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse, marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the country. Daniel Emond, an addictions counsellor with Teen Challenge of Central Canada, calls pot a gateway drug adding that eight out of 10 people addicted to hard drugs started by using marijuana. He says that’s why the discussion around decriminalizing marijuana needs to end.
“Are we willing to open that door? And what are the consqueneces?” said Emond. But Stairs says that’s exactly the types of discussions that need to be taking place – something that will happen when his club starts meeting monthly.
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