Pubdate: Sat, 21 Oct 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Author: Andrea Gordon
Page: GT1


Trustees at the Toronto District School Board want a say on the
location of shops that sell marijuana to make sure they're "as far
away from schools as possible."

With legalization less than a year away, they're seeking assurances
that the school board will be consulted in all discussions about
regulations concerning retail stores and medicinal marijuana
dispensaries in the city.

The request, outlined in a motion passed unanimously at a board
meeting this week, comes as school boards across the country start to
wrestle with the implications of cannabis legalization, which the
federal government is aiming for next July.

"We need to have some of this information," says trustee Ken Lister,
who moved the motion after hearing concerns from parents, particularly
about the possibility that stores near their children's schools might
sell the substance.

"We need to be consulted at the very least to have some say in terms
of where these locations are," he said. "If it's too close to a
school, we need to be able to say that's not appropriate and that
location will not be allowed."

In Ontario, only those 19 and older will be permitted to purchase or
possess marijuana, as is the case for alcohol. Pot consumption will be
limited to private homes and the purchase for recreational use will
only be through 150 LCBO-run stores.

But the new law still has implications for schools on everything from
codes of conduct to student safety and curriculum in such courses as
health and phys-ed, social sciences and law.

Wednesday's motion also calls for a TDSB report on how the changes
will affect the board and its rules, along with recommendations to
address the new landscape.

"The worry for parents is easy access and it being in front of their
children when children are easily distracted and looking to take a
break or skip school," Lister said.

North York mother Nesrin Berrak says one of the biggest issues in her
neighbourhood is lack of knowledge about legalization, how it might
affect kids' access to marijuana and proximity of sales sites.

That's compounded by language barriers for many newcomer families,
which leads to misinformation and fear, she said.

"It's most important that we have regular meetings and that parents'
concerns are addressed," said Berrak, who has three teenage sons and
is former parent council chair at Cherokee Public School in North York.

Information "is the biggest ally we have" when it comes to changes
that affect communities, she added.

Consultations have been taking place this fall between the provincial
Ministry of Education and the group representing many of Ontario's
boards about the impact on schools and students.

"I think we're all grappling with the short timelines for
legalization," said Laurie French, president of the Ontario Public
School Boards' Association. "If (the province) is explicitly looking
at a policy about proximity to schools . . . we need to be involved in
that. I think that's really what (the) TDSB (motion) is proactively
looking at."

French said adapting curriculum and providing resources to teach
topics related to legalization such as safe use, health risks and
mental health will be among the biggest challenges to get in place.

Other key concerns identified by her group include the marketing of
marijuana, police and school board protocols and how principals
respond to possession or use on the premises, she said.

"This is not just about a school-only responsibility, this needs to be
a community response and an interministerial response."

Ministry spokesperson Heather Irwin said the safety and well-being of
students is "our top priority."

Staff are working with other ministries, educators and school boards
"to ensure that the new regulatory framework for cannabis legalization
addresses education-related and public-health impacts," she said,
adding they will be consulted on development of any new policies.

"We are examining elements of the curriculum which need to be revised
as well as working to develop educational resources which will support
students, educators and parents."

The province is also working closely with the Association of
Municipalities of Ontario on issues related to sites where cannabis
will be sold - such as proximity to schools - and on preventing
illegal storefronts.

"Our focus is to work with our partners to ensure sales of cannabis
are delivered in a manner that prioritizes social responsibility and
public safety."
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