The dopest classroom in SAIT

Medical marijuana user challenges school’s rules

For most students at SAIT Polytechnic their education includes a backpack full of pens paper and a laptop. For first-year journalism student Lisa Kirkman however her backpack also includes a vaporizer and a bag full of weed which she legally inhales during class.

With a Health Canada licence to smoke medicinal marijuana Kirkman is challenging SAIT administration teachers and students on a campus with no medical marijuana policy. “I’m legally allowed to smoke anywhere people can smoke [cigarettes] and I’m allowed to vaporize everywhere else except private places when asked not to and airplanes” says Kirkman.

Kirkman is no stranger to weed. “I was toking regularly by age 19 [1994] consider my use medical since 2001 and got a licence in 2009” she says. She’s the author of SexPot: The Marijuana Lover’s Guide to Gettin’ It On and Happy Buds an editor at Skunk magazine an anti-prohibition activist and the founder of Calgary’s Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMRA) patient support group (Health Canada spells marijuana with an H).

She also has several chronic degenerative and ongoing health conditions including a blood disorder that prevents her from taking anti-inflammatories for extended periods of time and a sensitivity to opiates. “My conditions exclude me from being able to use most traditional pharmaceutical medications” she says.

When the weather was warmer Kirkman took her prescription outside with the cigarette smokers but in September of last year she began using a vaporizer — a device that enables the user to inhale the medicine without creating actual smoke — inside the classrooms. “When it’s winter I am less likely to go outside to smoke because it is cold and I have to be exposed to toxic smoke from the smokers while I’m medicating” she says.

According to Michael Sondermann associate registrar at SAIT the school administration is looking at several options for dealing with students or staff who are licensed to use medicinal marijuana including installing a communal smoking room. Although Kirkman is the only student SAIT is aware of who requires the use of medical marijuana during class time administration is still attempting to create a policy that will “balance the rights of users and non-users and [still] ensure that SAIT meets all of its legal obligations to both groups” says Sondermann.

Kirkman says she has received surprisingly little negative feedback about her use of marijuana in class. “Most comments are ‘oh what’s that smell?’ or ‘do you have to do that here?’ or ‘I really enjoyed that smell.’”

Two instructors have approached Kirkman with concerns about her using the vaporizer in class. The first confronted her in class and requested that she not use during that class anymore. The second instructor was somewhat more accommodating. “He waited until after [class] was very respectful and explained he understood why I needed to medicate” says Kirkman adding his main concern was the bad ventilation of that particular classroom.

More often than not it is “the smell or the noise of the machine that people have a problem with” says Kirkman. To combat this she uses deodorizing aerosol sprays and tries to only run the machine before class begins.

“I don’t think it’s very fair at all” says one classmate who didn’t want to be named. “Some people are trying to get over an addiction to the substance and having her shove it in all our faces every second of the day is both a hindrance and a nuisance.”

Monica Henderson another classmate is sympathetic. “It doesn’t perturb me that much” she says. “However I think that it would be respectful of her to consider alternative ways or times to medicate so that she doesn’t affect her classmates if she hasn’t considered this already.”

According to Kirkman she is on a medication schedule similar to some pharmaceuticals that patients are told to take at certain times. The schedule “sometimes allows me to wait between classes but sometimes I have to medicate more often” she says.

Kirkman says it’s important to her that people understand the difference between vaporizing and smoking marijuana because vaporizing doesn’t use or create smoke. “I am not sitting in the corner smoking a bong or smoking a fat blunt like on Cheech and Chong” she says. “I don’t get high for fun in class I medicate so I can be in class.”

Ultimately however Kirkman is defiant. “Legally they [SAIT] cannot stop me no matter what rules they make” she says.

Crystal Schick is a first-year journalism student at SAIT.