Waterloo Region’s high schools prepare for the arrival of legal cannabis

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WATERLOO REGION—Waterloo Region’s high schools are getting ready for legalized cannabis next month, as some administrators express concern about new rules that will make marijuana easier to buy and smoke in public.

Both the local public and Catholic school boards say they’ll continue to treat marijuana like alcohol after Oct. 17, meaning students can’t use it on school property or show up to class under the influence.

But under changes brought in by the Doug Ford government, which will include unlimited cannabis shops, home pot delivery and allowing public use, some are worried the schools may be kept busy policing the use of marijuana among teenagers.

“It’s certainly going to make our roles more challenging,” said Judy Merkel, superintendent of safe schools for the Waterloo Catholic District School Board.

“It’s reasonable to say there may be an increased uptake or surge. We’ll have to be diligent in supporting our students around making healthy choices.”

“This is all still new to us, and we’re still working through it,” said Lynsey Slupeiks, spokesperson for the Waterloo Region District School Board.

“Obviously we want our students to exercise good choices. Just like we wouldn’t encourage smoking, we wouldn’t encourage them to use marijuana or any other drug.”

Legal cannabis isn’t ushering in any major changes to school policy, she said. The old rules still apply, even it’ll be arguably easier for underage students to get their hands on cannabis.

“It could be a challenge for us, but we are treating it just like alcohol. Just like a student can’t come to school drunk, they can’t come to school high. There will be consequences if they did,” Slupeiks said.

Under the former Liberal plan, smoking marijuana would have been restricted to private residences. But Premier Doug Ford has aligned the public consumption of cannabis with the Smoke Free Ontario Act that governs tobacco consumption.

Most high school students are under 19 and won’t be old enough to legally buy or smoke cannabis. But some educators are still concerned about the impact of the law change on younger teenagers.

“We’re not clear on the rationale for the changes,” Merkel said. “It kind of begs the question around the reasoning behind making it more accessible.”

Students with medicinal marijuana prescriptions will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, she added. It’s not believed there are many students who are medicinal users, since the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario discourages doctors from prescribing cannabis to anyone under 25 unless all other conventional treatments have failed.

Some parents also have questions about so-called smoke-pits, or the offsite smoking zones for students who want a cigarette, and how they’ll be impacted by legal marijuana. Some schools are planning increased supervision of those sites.

“We realize there will be those users who will use offsite who may be using more frequently because of increased accessibility,” Merkel said.

The rules around smoking cannabis grew murkier this week, after Premier Ford seemed to backtrack on allowing public consumption of cannabis in line with the Smoke Free Ontario Act that governs tobacco.

The government said Thursday Ontarians will be able to consume marijuana wherever they can smoke cigarettes, including public parks — but on Friday Ford said the idea of people smoking up in parks or anywhere near children is “unacceptable.”


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