Central Okanagan school district readies itself for legal pot - InfoNews

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Central Okanagan school district readies itself for legal pot

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK
September 26, 2018 - 11:00 AM

CENTRAL OKANAGAN - While some governments and institutions have asked for more time to prepare for legal cannabis, the Central Okanagan school district is ready to go.

“Let’s face it, we’ve been in the business of detecting impairment for generations, so I don’t think there’s a lot of extra work there,” superintendent of schools Kevin Kaardal says.

While certainly on their radar, Kaardal doesn’t expect a sudden surge of interest and use on Oct. 17 amongst the district’s 22,500 students — sale of the drug will still be illegal to them as minors and like alcohol, its use will not be allowed on any school property.

“Those who have an interest will likely have already tried it,” Kaardal observes, pointing out he’s much more worried about the introduction of edibles in the coming years and their propensity to end up in the hands of children.

More likely, he says, is a slower increase over the next few years as parents of school age children take up its use, modeling the behaviour and making it more likely their kids will try it too.

“I’m not sure there will be a huge increase in just smoking it, although modelling any kind of behaviour, cigarettes or alcohol, tends to have an impact on young people,” the superintendent adds.

No changes are planned to the district’s alcohol and drug policy other than cannabis now has to be specifically mentioned rather than lumped in with other drugs.

The school district’s code of conduct already forbids possession and consumption of drugs and alcohol.

Those found in possession or under the influence will still be subject to the district's suspension policy which allows indefinite and definite suspensions.

In 2016-2017, last school year for which they have complete statistics, the district handed out 1,067 definite suspensions (where the length of suspension and terms are set out ahead of time).

Drugs were involved in 110 of those, coming fourth on the list behind behaviour (374) truancy (185) and fighting (120) as reasons for suspension.

One difference in the stats might be this: behavioural suspensions and fighting occur almost across the entire grade spectrum from Kindergarten to Grade 12 whereas drug offenses and truancy generally start in middle school and higher.

The district handed out just one indefinite suspension in the 2016-2017 school year and it was related to drugs, although what kind of drug is not noted in the district's suspension report.

Kaardal says the school’s objective is not to punish users, but to try to bring them back on track, connecting them with special school-based services and more intensely monitoring their behaviour.

“It’s really when young people become impaired or doing things in the black market, that’s when we intervene,” he says. "

The superintendent holds no rosy view of cannabis, noting its ability to impair concentration and memory, especially in developing brains plus its potential to damage the lungs.

However, he also knows teens and worries legalization of cannabis will provide an extra pull on their inclination to experiment.

“The best way to combat all of that is through education so we will focus on making sure students understand the risks to mental health, to physical health if it’s the smoking piece,” he says. “Hopefully, they will make good, educated decisions about what they will put in their bodies.”

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