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TORONTO — As the arrival of legal cannabis looms, school boards across Ontario are grappling with how to discuss the drug with underage students barred from consuming it while ensuring rules and policies reflect the province’s new legal and social reality.

Like alcohol, recreational cannabis will be off-limits to those under 19 and banned from school property when it becomes legal on Wednesday, and school boards say they are working to update their codes of conduct and disciplinary processes to reflect the details of provincial law.

Many boards say they are also training staff to deal with questions and issues surrounding cannabis both in and out of the classroom as they await further direction from the government.

"This is new territory for everyone," said John Yan, spokesman for the Toronto Catholic District School Board. "As someone who grew up in the 60s, I didn’t think there would come a day when marijuana would be legalized in this country and it’s a reality that is going to take some adjustment for everyone."

The Catholic board noted that its staff would be guided on various potential circumstances that could involve cannabis.

"Some of our students may be exposed to smoke, whether vape or anything related to cannabis, and not have consumed," Yan said. "So we have to train our teachers and school administrators to be able to tell the difference as best they can."

Ontario’s Ministry of Education has published some resources for educators and parents highlighting the changes contained in the Cannabis Act, which is expected to pass this week. But it has yet to give specific instructions to school authorities on the issue.

What’s more, consultations are currently underway on the health and physical education curriculum, which deals with substance use as well as sexual education. An interim curriculum put in place by the government this summer does not discuss the legalization of cannabis.

"Once legalized, policies and resources on suspension, expulsion, and code of conduct will be updated and posted on the ministry’s website. School boards will be expected to update their policies accordingly," ministry spokeswoman Heather Irwin said in an email.

"Additional resources for principals/vice principals and educators are being developed for release this fall to help ensure they have the necessary information to support students and keep schools safe. The ministry is also currently consulting on the best way to efficiently support the training needs of staff in school boards and schools." YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN…

At Canada’s largest school board, educators began writing lesson plans over the summer to reflect details of cannabis legislation, said George Kourtis, the health and physical education co-ordination for the Toronto District School Board.

Those plans will touch on topics such as driving under the influence of cannabis, he said, and strive for a non-judgmental tone. And while substance use and abuse is technically in the curriculum for December, teachers are being encouraged to discuss it this week since cannabis will be a "hot topic," he said.

"It’s going to be very similar to the conversation about alcohol that we’ve been used to having over the last few years but now for the first time we’ve been talking about an illegal substance for many, many years and now it’s becoming a legal substance," he said.

The board is also working with its guidance counsellors and mental health support staff so that they, too, are equipped to discuss cannabis with students.

"I think the more people we get involved, the better we can not only address the issue, but address issues as they arise because of legalization," Kourtis said.

Abby Goldstein, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and Canada […]

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