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The University of British Columbia is in the middle of tweaking its campus smoking policy to allow recreational marijuana use after the drug was legalized by the Canadian government in October.

Michael Serebriakov, legal counsel for the university, is helping to prepare the revised policy for approval by the Board of Governors. The move is expected to make the university -- and others in Canada making similar shifts -- among the first in North America to permit marijuana use on campus.

“Under the current policy, under the definition of smoking, we already included smokable plant products. That’s why when legalization came up on the 17th [of October], smoking cannabis was already included in the policy,” Serebriakov said. “The revised version will make it more explicit.”

Smoking regulations on the University of British Columbia’s two campuses differ. The Vancouver campus prohibits smoking in specified areas such as student housing and university transportation, but it is otherwise permitted. That policy will likely apply to marijuana. The Okanagan campus, which is significantly smaller, has six smoking gazebos. Two of those, Serebriakov said, have already been designated as “mixed use” for tobacco and cannabis.

Several states in the United States have legalized recreational marijuana use in recent years, but college campuses have continued to ban the drug due to unwavering federal laws. Candace Smith, assistant vice chancellor for strategic media relations at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said that the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act requires the university to ban the drug in order to be eligible for federal funding. In addition, many students are under the legal age for use and possession of marijuana in Colorado.

“The majority of our students are under the age of 21, so state law continues to prohibit their use/possession,” Smith wrote in an email. “Furthermore, any marijuana use -- including medical marijuana -- is prohibited in campus housing. That’s a part of their housing contract.”

The University of Denver also bans the drug due to federal guidelines. Jon Stone, a spokesman for the university, said that it’s too early to speculate about whether those rules will ever change.

“Smoking and tobacco products are banned on the University of Denver campus. So, obviously if any laws were to change on the federal level, the marijuana policy would have to be examined,” he wrote in an email.

The University of British Columbia’s new policy is “not unusual,” Serebriakov said. Two nearby universities are also allowing marijuana use on campus.

“It is a bit of a different climate [in the United States],” Serebriakov said. “Our closest institutions here in British Columbia -- the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University -- they’re both allowing smoking of cannabis in designated areas.”

The University of Victoria allows marijuana use in designated smoking areas on campus, per its amended smoking policy.

Simon Fraser University is also in the middle of revising its policies and has established two temporary cannabis-smoking areas on its Burnaby campus in the meantime. According to the Simon Fraser website, “Policy revisions are set to be proposed this fall and at the forefront of the policy planning is responsible usage and education of all university community members. SFU will be holding a public consultation on the proposed approach before presenting the policies for final approval by the Board in early 2019.”

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