School board asks municipalities to opt out of cannabis sales

GUELPH – The Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) is asking municipalities to opt out of allowing retail cannabis stores in Wellington County.

“Part of our concern … is it’s the unknown and … public health … [has] expressed concerns about increased use based on increased access,” UGDSB superintendent Gary Slater said in an interview with the Advertiser.

“And we just don’t know at this point what the possible costs might be or the impact from a social perspective might be on a community.”

He added, “I think that’s where our main concern lies … because it’s so new it’s unknown and we’re just … hoping to take a cautious approach to it.”

In a letter to the CAOs of all seven Wellington County municipalities, Slater broached the subject of cannabis retail stores.

“As staff, we share concerns that potential increased access by youth in our communities may result in more addiction, mental health, and discipline issues in our schools,” Slater wrote.

“However, we also share the concern about quality issues since underage users are reliant on black market access to cannabis.

“At this time, we encourage that communities opt-out of retail distribution until there is a clearer understanding of the social and financial impacts of legalization of recreational cannabis and retail distribution.”

Since cannabis was legalized on Oct. 17, the board has not seen an increased use in cannabis among Upper Grand students, Slater said.

“We can only speculate but their legal access is limited to online purchasing and we don’t know, in the short period of time that it has been legally online, what affect there might have been on the black market, where our students would be required to access it because it is still illegal for them,” Slater said.

“We haven’t seen a change, but we don’t know whether it’s just because of that online aspect.

“In that sense it’s been a positive thing; it hasn’t caused issues yet, but it’s that unknown piece about store fronts because then that access is increased.”

Slater suggests studying communities that allow cannabis stores to learn about the potential impacts of the legislation.

Slater also requests  municipalities to come up with consistent bylaws regarding cannabis.

“Regardless of communities’ decisions about cannabis retail stores, we ask that there be a coordinated effort to prepare smoking bylaws to address cigarette and recreational cannabis smoking in public,” Slater wrote.

“Consistent with concerns that we are aware the OPP has voiced, a consistent, singular approach throughout Wellington County would also greatly assist our schools in your communities with monitoring and addressing these issues.”

The Wellington Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) has not made an official statement regarding cannabis stores in local municipalities, said WCDSB assistant superintendent  Tim Yawney.

“Our focus has been on education of our students and our families, and on policy updates to reflect the move to legalization,” he explained.

WCDSB planned to host a “Student Action Forum” – on Dec. 6, 9:45am to 2:15pm, at Springfield golf course in Guelph –  to learn about and discuss key questions on the recent legalization of cannabis.

Students will be able to ask questions to a vice principal, police officer and an expert from Homewood Health Centre who specializes in the impact of cannabis on the brain.

Municipalities have until Jan. 22 to decide whether or not they will allow retail cannabis stores in their communities.