David Russell

Don't add Doritos to school supply lists just yet
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Coquitlam Now, October 29, 2003, pg. 12

The legal quagmire that Canada's marijuana laws have become has had some schools and school districts questioning their own zero tolerance rules about drug use or possession at school.

An Ontario Supreme Court ruling this past summer essentially nixed possession of small amounts of marijuana as an offence under the Canadian Criminal Code.

For a couple of weeks between legal proceedings, Canadians in effect would have faced little prospect of prosecution for possession.

Since then, the Supreme Court overturned the decision reached in Ontario and ruled that marijuana could be possessed when prescribed by a physician for patients in chronic pain.

At the same time, marijuana possession for recreational use returned to the no-no side of the legal balance sheet.

In the interim, school districts across the country have begun to rethink how they handle drugs at school.

They needn't.

The simple fact of the matter is that the Canadian Criminal Code is not the standard by which schools must act.

That is, school rules do not have to match exactly the legal standards set out in the code.

Which is not to say, of course, that school districts can set policies or procedures that violate the Criminal Code.

You won't see theft, embezzlement and murder suddenly becoming de rigueur in our school system.

The only standards set out in legislation that B.C. schools must meet are those contained in the School Act of British Columbia.

Even if the Canadian government and/or the courts see fit to decriminalize or even legalize small amounts of marijuana -- which they haven't yet, let's reiterate -- that would in no way require that schools begin to loosen their approach to marijuana possession at school.

Indeed, schools have always had rules that students have had to follow that have nothing whatsoever to do with criminal behavior.

Many middle and high schools forbid wearing hats or jackets inside the building, for example.

There is no Criminal Code prohibition against wearing outdoor clothing indoors.

Almost all schools have some sort of rule against plagiarism and cheating on tests, but you won't find laws written to address those academic issues.

Simply put, schools are not courts of law and the standard their policies must reach are different from those in the courtroom.

That is why, despite what many students believe from watching loads of American legal dramas, a student found to be intoxicated at a school dance, for example, need not have his or her intoxication proven "beyond a reasonable doubt."

The school need only demonstrate to its own satisfaction that a breach of school rules has occurred and take appropriate action.

It's also the reason schools can't sentence kids to jail. Regardless of the direction eventually taken by parliament and the courts, schools will always be able to determine their own policies about drug possession at school or school events.

The only standard beyond the School Act those policies will need to meet is one that hopefully won't be in short supply: common sense.

Coquitlam resident David Russell is a freelance writer and contributing editor of Canadian Politics at the online publication suite101.com.