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Student newspapers collaborate on cross-Canada cannabis story

Student journalists in Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa combined their efforts to report on new cannabis policies on Canadian university campuses.


Students who wish to consume cannabis on campus face a complicated web of overlapping federal, provincial and university-specific policies and guidelines. Journalists at four student newspapers from across Canada saw this as an opportunity to work together on an article highlighting the challenges for university students trying to navigate these policies.

The month-long project was spearheaded by Zak Vescera, a news editor at The Ubyssey, the official student newspaper of the University of British Columbia. He had reported on drug policy and harm reduction on his campus and wanted to write a story about how universities were approaching legalization in different parts of the country.

“Campuses were becoming part of this really complicated patchwork of cannabis policy that we see across Canada,” said Mr. Vescera, a fourth-year student who studies international relations and French at UBC. Rather than tackle this complex story on its own, The Ubyssey decided to reach out to other student newspapers to combine their perspectives and resources.

The article was published on Oct. 16, the day before recreational cannabis use became legal in Canada. It was authored by four student journalists from the University of Calgary’s The Gauntlet, the University of Ottawa’s The Fulcrum, Carleton University’s The Charlatan and The Ubyssey.

Despite being separated by distance and time zones, Mr. Vescera said the journalists developed a solid working relationship. Although they were each in charge of a separate section of the article, the entire group pitched in to gather quotes from different sources and help edit the story. “It was a super collaborative process and I’m pretty proud of how we pulled it off,” said Mr. Vescera.

The article highlights the especially complex environment for students trying to figure out federal and provincial policies, in addition to the myriad university regulations, around the consumption, sale and cultivation of cannabis. It also covers how some universities have approached legal cannabis use for those living in residence and for student athletes.

Young adults, who represent the key age demographic for universities, are perhaps the largest cannabis users in the country. Statistics Canada data released a few months before legalization shows a third of 15- to 24-year-olds reported using cannabis – more than double the rate for those aged 25 or older.

This is not the first time student newspapers have collaborated on a major story. In 2016, The Ubyssey partnered with Western University’s Gazette and the University of Toronto’s Varsity to write an article on the salaries of student union executives in major Canadian universities.

Mr. Vescera said reporting on cannabis legalization also lent itself to a group effort because of its national scope and complexity. “There was a lot of stuff unfolding, and by combining our resources and putting our brains together we were able to produce a project that was a lot more comprehensive than any of us would have been able to do by doing it alone.”

 The article received generally positive feedback, said Mr. Vescera, who added that he hopes it will help inform future cannabis policies on campuses and allow students to better navigate the system.

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