Suspended for Smelling Like Pot? Legalization Brings New Challenges for School
A young, Black man is a model student and model citizen, involved with his community as a volunteer, yet he is suspended for ‘smelling’ like cannabis.
Suspended? Should a student face discipline for smoking cannabis? Well, that may be up to the board of education, but generally, under the new legislation, most students are not the legal smoking age. But, should they face discipline for smelling of weed without evidence of possession or use? That’s exactly what happened to one student in Rexdale, Ontario.
Sixteen-year-old ‘Tony’ (name changed for privacy) was suspended for three days on false accusations of smoking cannabis illegally on the first day of classes. The eleventh grader has never faced suspension, has worked as a counsellor at a summer kids’ camp, has good grades, and has completed more than 300 hours of volunteer service – well over the required amount for secondary school students. His mother explained also that Tony often comes home right after school in order to avoid any negative influences or trouble.
Even more infuriating? Tony claims he’s never smoked cannabis in his life. He works with mentor, Andre Smith, at the Jamaican Canadian Association. Smith was also shocked by the suspension and spoke up on Tony’s behalf. And the case wasn’t a light one – Tony’s suspension was based purely off the vice-principal at Monsignor Percy Johnson Catholic Secondary School smelling cannabis on Tony’s person. When Tony asked the vice-principal to search his bag and belongings to prove that he didn’t have any cannabis and hadn’t smoked any, the staff member refused and suspended Tony regardless. Despite showing no signs of being high, adamantly denying it, and trying to offer proof that he hadn’t smoked any, the staff member acted sent Tony home.
Tony was devastated and claims he had walked through a cloud of cannabis smoke on his way to school. The neighbourhood through which Tony walks is known for violence, gang issues, and groups of people regularly smoking cannabis in the street, where anyone can walk through the smoke.
Is This Racism?
Tony is especially upset about the issue because of his race. As a person of color, he’s concerned about the stereotypes associated with his race. He told the Star, “knowing that I’m a Black kid, they’re going to think even more about me, that I’m a loser, a bum, and that I’m going to drop out of school later on. That’s how most people think of the stereotypical Black teenage boy.”
His concerns are devastating, if not just because of the possibility that the injustice of his suspension may have been based on racial profiling (as has so often been the case with cannabis and Black communities), but that these issues are clearly omnipresent in his daily life. Issues of race and cannabis have always been evident – something that Tony is clearly aware of.
Fortunately, his suspension was thrown out. Tony and his mother, alongside his mentor Andre Smith, fought against the school board on what they rightfully saw as an unjust discipline based on no evidence. The suspension was revoked and removed from his permanent record. Tony is happy to be back at school, but is concerned that what happened is just a small glimpse into the future post-legalization.
Change in Curriculum and Policies
As mentioned, most kids attending high school are going to be under age. Meaning that even with legalization, most of them will still be committing a crime if they’re under the influence or carrying cannabis. But smell isn’t enough to prove this – after all, they could be in a situation like Tony’s where they’re walking through an area, or live in a home where their guardians are legally consuming and have the smell on their clothes.
Based on amendments in the Education Act, even if a student is legal (the age of which is 19 in Ontario), they will be prohibited from carrying or consuming on school campuses or off campus during school hours – just as they would be from drinking alcohol. Those who are in possession or have been smoking cannabis may face suspension for 20 school days. In particular, those who are caught providing cannabis for minors will receive an automatic 20 day suspension, or at the worst, expulsion.
There will also be major changes in the curriculum of humanities, law, social science, health, and physical education courses to incorporate legalization. Rather than teaching abstinence, many of the courses will now teach about the laws, use and misuse of cannabis, and the health and risk factors associated with the plant. Teachers and staff members will also be required to go through training to help them detect and discipline for cannabis – hopefully to avoid unjust instances like Tony’s.
The Ministry of Education will be providing material to principals and vice-principals to help with training. The main goal is to allow for education in an accepting, tolerant, non-judgmental atmosphere so students can learn about cannabis and make their own decisions based on accurate information. Ontario’s Liberal government had promised Ontario school boards $2.8 million for this, but it’s no longer clear if the Conservative government will follow through with the promise of the previous administration.
Tony expressed hope to The Star that this training would prevent a situation like his arising again: “I just hope the teachers know what they’re doing if they come up with a situation like this.”