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Robert priceWith the exception of those people who smoke marijuana for medical purposes, I haven’t met many people who were improved by smoking up.

In my experience with marijuana – and I admit my experience is limited to the second-hand variety – the stereotype of the bored and boring toker rings true.

I’m among the few who still question the federal government’s decision to legalize pot. Decriminalizing the drug made a certain amount of sense. Canadians were already ignoring the law and we don’t need to populate our prisons with people – nearly always men, usually minorities – caught with small amounts of the substance.

But we didn’t need to legalize it.

By legalizing pot, the government said to Canadians: You’re an adult, you decide how you want to live and we’ll decide what goods to tax.

To the uptight, pot enthusiasts said: Calm down. Pot isn’t heroin and recreational weed won’t bring the Second Coming. Besides, the people are already high.

While the social prohibitions against pot dissolved long ago, not everybody is cheering this new freedom. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a group that knows too well the risks associated with an impaired society, warned of an increase in road fatalities. Parent groups groaned at the prospect of stoned children. And condo boards across the country have established rules to ban pot smoking and marijuana farming inside condo units.

I’m already shutting the windows to keep the skunky smell out of my apartment. I live close to three safe injection sites and a half-dozen homeless shelters, including one that will serve Thanksgiving dinner to 1,600 destitute neighbours, mostly men with substance abuse problems.

While we can’t know with any certainty what will happen when this vice hits store shelves, from the view from my window, easy access to pot may not liberate the choices of every Canadian.

Universities, too, face difficult questions. What’s to keep universities from turning into stoner schools, if they aren’t already? How will they balance the desire to light up with the need to limit impairment? And what can universities do to prevent students from eating edible marijuana products while they sit in the auditorium with hundreds of other students?

On the campuses where I’ve taught recently, students aggressively self-police cigarette smoking. They set up tables on campus to warn their peers about the incontrovertible truth that cigarettes kill and they draw rings on the pavement to mark where smokers must stand before they light up.

Universities might find these earnest anti-smoking activists an essential part of their strategy to teach students about the dangers of dope.

But the more effective way to deter substance abuse might be grades. Five years from now, how will marijuana use reflect in attendance, participation, dropout and failure rates compared to now?

Those line graphs might tell a persuasive story.

When I consider what universities should do, I’m visited by visions of my old high school’s smokers’ pit. The cool kids huddled in the cold, sharing stories and cigarettes, and sending up smoke signals to attract more kids. The kids who wanted to be cool hung out at the edges of the circle, walling the cool kids off from the cold blasts of wind and taking a puff to show that they could be cool, too.

I don’t expect anything about the smokers’ pit to change except for the aroma it emits.

Instead of returning to class smelling like ashtrays and crunching breath mints, I imagine students will return to class glassy-eyed.

Leaving the rest of us to wonder how they couldn’t get through class without getting high.

Troy Media columnist Robert Price is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga.


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