As a high school teacher in a suburban public school, legalization has meant that more and more of my students have had information about cannabis thrust upon them by their peers, parents, teachers, and the media. I have a mandate to help them navigate life as individuals and teach them how to judge these sources of information for their inherent biases. But where do we turn for information in the ‘age of information’?

In spite of the internet’s scope, I am still the primary source of knowledge for the students in my classroom, which means I have to be informed first before answering their questions. My goal is to direct opinions towards ideas and facts. These make stronger and better-informed opinions, and stronger individuals, too! I think most teachers seek this same kind of objectivity in their classroom; my job is not to pontificate but to inform and help students learn for themselves.

How do we respond to students’ questions about cannabis? How are we keeping the messages from our school administrators and fellow teachers consistent? How can we maintain a healthy dialogue about cannabis without appearing permissive?

What do you say?

The other day, a student in my English class remarked that legalization looked like “a bad idea” for Canada. For him, the prospect of a legalizing a drugappeared—on its surface—like something bad. I mean, by thatrationale, can you blame him? Drugs are bad, right?

But I like to keep myself informed. I didn’t outrightly deny his claims. I didn’t really support them either. I just told him what I know to be true about cannabis: industry will try sell cannabis, they’ll sell it at particular places, people will use it, and law and order will adapt to a new climate under legalization.

I told him, for example, that it’s illegal for people under the age of 19 to buy cannabis (in Ontario). I told him that one of the proposed benefits of legalization is that researchers can begin testing its effects on humans, and any of its supposed benefits and risks can be weighed using the scientific method, moving it beyond experience and public opinion. I also told him that the Ontario Cannabis Store (the provincially owned shop, and sole proprietor for recreational cannabis in Ontario) is opening stores in 2019 to supplement online traffic.

Did I change his mind about anything? I’m not sure. I didn’t want to. But I do know that his comment brought on a slew of opinions and through-the-grape-vine comments from his classmates. “I heard that marijuana stores aren’t opening until next year.” “Can weed cure seizures?” Yeah! My brother gets seizures but he smokes a ton of pot.” “Is the legal age to buy cannabis the same everywhere?”

In my eyes, this episode was another in a long list of healthy conversations. My students have always felt safe to speak about topics for which they’re interested. I don’t care whether that’s video games, dance, weightlifting, the process of selecting a jury, cats, Cardi B, or cannabis. I have to be prepared with the wherewithal to respond and guide discussions, not stifle it.

What has changed?

This has happened again and again over the last year, and my sense is that it’s going to continue into the future. Most kids have a finger on the pulse of political and public life, even if that finger is a little tentatively outstretched and shaky (and easily distracted by their iPad). They sense that there has been a seismic shift, and it’s happening right in front of their very eyes.

Remember, too, that we teachers are mandated to teach the curriculum. That curriculum hasn’t changed since legalization. Not yet at least. Our messaging is supposed to remain consistent. It’s policy. But I’ve been getting the sense that even the students recognize how there has a been a seismic shift, and it’s happening right before their very eyes, and we have to be prepared faster than the law and policymakers to step up and answer their questions or guide their thinking. Many of our students—especially those in high school—are only a few years away from being voters, consumers, and dissenters. And by the time they’re in our classrooms, their civic engagement has already begun.

In all this, my job remains same: teach and inspire kids to learn and grow.