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Cannabis Use on Campus: Leadership Roles and Strategies

Health, Safety, and Well-being Policy and Advocacy
August 17, 2023 Reni Mokrii Lafayette College

This is the third in a series of blog posts about cannabis use on campus in connection with recent state legalization and what administrators can do to secure and promote a safer environment for their students. The previous posts provided an overview of cannabis policy terminology, state and federal legislation, the implication these policies have on higher education, and the arguments for developing better cannabis education on college campuses across the country. As a reminder, NASPA is a nonpartisan organization, and this material is published for educational purposes only.

In this text, the reader will learn about:

  • Leadership roles in cannabis education

  • Motivational interviewing strategies

Leadership Roles 

As soon as we understand the importance and urgency of cannabis education, the next reasonable question is: who is responsible for providing education to students? Here’s a helpful  overview of potential leadership roles in cannabis education to get you started:

  • Peer educators. Peer educators play an essential role as a bridge between the administration and the student body. They have more personal and informal connections and access to other students than administrators. One of the most evident factors of the increase in alcohol and drug consumption is conformism and normalization of substance use within a social group. While the data are limited  regarding cannabis consumption specifically, scientists have drawn a correlation between perceived social norms and any substance consumption rates.  Peer educators have the agency to make consciousness contagious. Peer educators such as resident advisors and first-year orientation peer advisors should receive complete and well-informed training not only on policy enforcement but also on the rationale behind the policies. They should feel motivated to spread the word among their peers and engage with them outside of formal settings. Check out NASPA’s Peer Education Initiatives project to learn more. 

  • Student Affairs Professionals. Explicit education through avenues such as formal presentations and the dissemination of toolkits have not been proven effective in alcohol and drug prevention.  Specialists recommend putting effort in 1:1 education through behavioral therapy strategies such as motivational interviewing. We encourage administrators across different functional areas to develop a rapport  with students and identify if their individual goals may conflict with the potential risks of cannabis use. For example, career and academic advisors may consider sharing data on the correlation between student success and cannabis use when consulting with their students. This work involves a high level of empathy, observation, and intentionality in establishing an open dialogue with a student. 

  • Residence Life and Public Safety. Student affairs professionals who are directly involved in prevention and enforcement should provide transparent information to students  regarding cannabis use and expungement policies. Students may also benefit from learning about the interaction of cannabis use policies at the institutional-, state-, federal-levels. This information should be highly accessible and disseminated widely. If students choose to break the law, frontline staff should make sure their choice is informed and they are aware of the consequences. 

  • Faculty. Faculty involvement from departments such as Psychology, Psychiatry, Human and Behavioral Sciences, and other related fields may prove an invaluable resource to students. We encourage  faculty to consider opportunities to provide students with credible expertise on substance use and its risks.  

Motivational Interviewing Strategies 

National leaders in drug and alcohol prevention studies currently recommend that student affairs professionals educate students through motivational interviewing strategies; keep reading to  learn more about what motivational interviewing is, and how it can be implemented.

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a guiding, explicitly curious, and respectful style of communication between an “empathetic advice” provider and an “active advice” recipient. MI is designed to empower people to change by drawing out their own personal connection to meaning, importance, and their capacity for change. In the particular case of administrator-student conversations, it means gently encouraging  a student to discover their pure and genuine interest in their success and facilitating, rather than instructing, their understanding toward how cannabis consumption might affect their individual goals, dreams, and ambitions.

The four principles of MI include: 

  1. The student affairs professional (SAP) should develop empathy, engagement, and active listening with a student. The goal is to establish trust through understanding so that the student is able to see an accurate reflection of their experiences, perspectives, vision of their current challenges, and their pathway toward future success.

  2. The SAP should avoid taking on a role of authority or expertise. Instead the administrator should  serve as a guide to help direct navigation so that students may find arguments for change on their own. Over time, motivation has to become intrinsic. 

  3. The administrator should avoid confrontation, argumentation, labeling, and/or judgment. The professional’s role is to reduce resistance to change. If resistance occurs, the professional should change communication strategies. 

  4. The administrator should support a student’s self-efficacy and uplift their optimism and growing confidence in their success, maturity, and ability to make decisions. The student is responsible for choosing and implementing change. 

This information about motivational interviewing strategies is limited and incomplete. The reader is highly encouraged to learn more at  MINT Excellence in Motivational Interviewing and to check out the report, Indicated prevention for college student marijuana use: a randomized controlled trial

Did you like this post? Look out for next week's post on key stakeholders of cannabis education on campus. Want to see more topical deep dives? We'd love to hear from you!  Please fill out this form to let us know about what legislative activity, and topical issues you are most impacted by.