Catholic Vancouver Feb. 15, 2019

Cops give St. Helen’s kids the dope on cannabis

By Agnieszka Ruck

RCMP Const. Alexa Hodgins gives a presentation on marijuana to Grade 7 students at St. Helen's Elementary School in Burnaby. (Waldemar Sambor photos)

Grade 7 teacher Anthony Canosa was shocked to learn many of his students have come in contact with cannabis since recreational use was legalized in October.

“I wasn’t surprised how many of them knew about the topic, but how many of them had smelled it and been around it,” said Canosa, who teaches at St. Helen’s Elementary School in Burnaby.

When he asked a room of 35 students aged 12 and 13 how many of them had smelled it, seen others smoke it, or seen vaping products on convenience store shelves, most put their hands up.

“It’s scary, being a father of two myself, to see that these kids are surrounded by it anywhere they go,” said Canosa. Under the new B.C. laws, the use of marijuana is prohibited around children and wherever smoking tobacco is restricted. Only British Columbians 19 and older are allowed to purchase cannabis.

Believing education was the best thing he could offer his young students, Canosa invited RCMP Const. Alexa Hodgins of the Burnaby Youth Investigative Team to dispel some myths and misconceptions about the drug.

“Education is the key,” especially before kids transition to high school, said Canosa. “We figured that we wanted to give them our side of it before they go and explore it themselves.”

Hodgins’ presentation included details about drug impairment, slowed reaction times, and the dangers of using drugs that may be laced with other substances. Some students even tried on goggles that imitated being under the influence of alcohol or marijuana, and were asked to pass and catch a ball.

“It was an eye opener” for the students, said Canosa. “We try to do our part as educators to give them the good and the bad, then hope they make good choices.”

RCMP constable Alexa Hodgins and Grade 7 teacher Anthony Canosa.

St. Helen’s principal Waldemar Sambor was on board with bringing up the subject. “It was amazing how misinformed our students were and how much valuable information they received,” he said.

Canosa added parents were also supportive; he consulted with them before the presentation and received only positive responses.

The use of recreational marijuana was legalized in Canada Oct. 17, 2018. Just over one month after legalization, the Catholic bishops of B.C. and the Yukon issued a statement saying while the use of medical marijuana to alleviate pain is “acceptable,” smoking is a “serious health hazard” and using cannabis to become intoxicated can lead to a loss of good judgement and immoral choices.

They added some research points to ill effects on the brains of marijuana users under 25 years of age.