Canada: Dazed And Confused: A Look At Medical Marijuana And Ontario Schools

As the Canadian medical marijuana industry continues to expand and evolve at a rapid pace, unintended gaps have begun to appear across a wide spectrum of legislation. One such gap currently exists in the Ontario school system whereby students with prescriptions for medical marijuana (Student Patients) may face accommodation challenges as they tread into uncharted and controversial territory.

As a preliminary matter, this article will not discuss the ongoing debate surrounding the efficacy and safety of marijuana use amongst children and adolescents as such topic is beyond our scope and much better addressed by those with medical knowledge. Instead, we are going to assume that if a student has obtained a prescription to use medical marijuana to treat a medical condition, the student, his or her parent or guardian and their family physician have carefully and thoroughly considered all of the issues surrounding child or adolescent use of medical marijuana and have determined that, despite any reservations and concerns, the student's medical condition warrants the use of medical marijuana as a treatment option. Therefore, our consideration of the issues explored in this article is made on the premise that there are students who are very ill, for whom medical marijuana greatly improves their quality of life and whose inability to access medical marijuana while at school either deprives them of access to the same level of education as their peers or necessitates that they unduly suffer in order to access that education.

Therefore, assuming that the introduction of the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) will result in an increase in the number of Student Patients in Ontario, it is worth addressing some of the accommodation challenges that schools are currently facing or may be facing in the future which are, at least in part, due to the failure of existing legislation and related school board policies to address the issue of medical marijuana use in schools.

The Legislative Gap

The Ontario Experience

In Ontario, provincial legislation, and school board codes of conduct and policies are silent (we assume unintentionally) on the ability of a student to consume medical marijuana in any form on school property. In order to understand such silence it is important to look at the legislation:

  1. Education Act (Ontario) (Education Act): The Education Act and its regulations provide the statutory basis for how education is delivered to students in Ontario's publicly funded school system. While the Education Act makes the possession and trafficking of illegal drugs an activity that can lead to suspension or expulsion of a student, it does not specifically address the use of prescription drugs – including medical marijuana;
  2. Smoke-Free Ontario Act (SFOA): The SFOA bans the smoking or holding of lighted tobacco products at schools but makes no reference to medical marijuana;
  3. Electronic Cigarettes Act (ECA): The ECA, while not yet fully in force, provides broad exemptions for medical marijuana patients (which would include Student Patients). In its current form, the ECA would allow a Student Patient to use a vapourizer for medical marijuana consumption on school property; and
  4. School Board Policies: Most, if not all, school boards in Ontario have policies and procedures in place with respect to assisting students with medication. As an example, the Toronto District School Board has a policy that establishes processes for dealing with the handling and administration of medication to students, however, it, along with other policies we reviewed, are silent on medical marijuana use.

Dealing with overlapping legislation, including the MMPR, is not an easy task for school boards. The Education Act is perhaps the most challenging as the term "illegal drug" is not expressly defined so there is no clear carve-out for students who require prescription medicines that would otherwise be classified as controlled substances (i.e., medical marijuana). An argument could be made that a Student Patient with a prescription for medical marijuana (and therefore an exemption from the prohibitions created under federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act) is not technically in possession of an "illegal drug". However, this line of reasoning forces Student Patients and educators to rely on an inference for the purposes of facilitating accommodation for Student Patients rather than providing clear legislative guidance. Further, school board policies that address assisting students with taking medication are not helpful for Student Patients who choose to medicate by way of inhalation versus some form of ingestion. It should be noted that medical marijuana is currently only legally available in three formats from licensed producers under the MMPR – dried marijuana, fresh marijuana and cannabis oil – and inhalation remains the predominant mode of self-administration.

Because of the lack of guidance provided by existing legislation, schools face the difficult challenge of balancing the accommodation needs of Student Patients, the rights of other students and the interests and desires of the school's other stakeholders. For example, while the proposed ECA exemptions for medical marijuana would have gone a long way to providing Student Patients with the right to self-administer medical marijuana during school, these exemptions attracted the concern and criticism of various stakeholders which ultimately led to the Ontario government stating that it will "revisit" and further consider the exemptions. Consequently, the legislative gap remains and Student Patients and educators remain unsure as to their rights and obligations.

North American Examples

The consequences of legislative uncertainty are illustrated by a high-school student in Saskatchewan who recently brought a human rights complaint against the Saskatchewan Public School Board for denying his request to consume legally prescribed medical marijuana at school. As a proposed alternative, the school board requested that the student drive home to use his medicine whenever he felt pain, and denied the student's request to use a vapourizer in a private area of the school. The case is currently before the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.

Moving south of the border, the rapid increase in the liberalization of marijuana laws at a State level has raised similar concerns, leading two jurisdictions to pass laws or policies addressing the use of medical marijuana in schools:

  1. New Jersey became the first State to allow medical marijuana in schools as a response by the State to a school district's refusal to allow a 16-year-old student (who was using medical marijuana oil to treat his seizures) to possess and consume medical marijuana oil on school property. The school board feared that allowing such possession would violate the State's "Drug-free School Zone" laws and the general U.S. federal law prohibition against the possession of marijuana. In response, New Jersey State legislators intervened and proposed a bill to allow the consumption of medical marijuana oil on school grounds. However, the legislation (which was signed into law on November 9, 2015) expressly banned the administration of medical marijuana by a student via smoking or other forms of inhalation; and
  2. A similar policy was adopted by the Auburn School Committee in Auburn, Maine. The Auburn policy provides that medical marijuana can be consumed on school property if the medicine was approved by a doctor and administered in school by a parent or guardian. Of note, the policy requires the medical marijuana to be in a non-smokeable form and stipulates that only the primary caregiver is allowed to administer the drug in the principal's office or another place the principal chooses. School staff (including a nurse) and other students cannot hold or administer the medical marijuana.

The responses of the State of New Jersey and the Auburn School Committee to the lack of legislative guidance on how to accommodate Student Patients in school are encouraging and should be applauded, but neither solution is perfect – both limit the means of consumption and the Auburn policy prohibits school staff from aiding in the administration of the medicine. Accordingly, while those experiences provide Ontario legislators and educators with some guidance they should not be viewed as cut-and-paste solutions for Ontario.

Moving Towards a Solution

Medical marijuana use in school is a multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder issue. In our view, there is no right answer or perfect solution as what might work well for one school may be untenable in another. We query whether adequate guidance on the accommodation of Student Patients in school can be achieved by blanket legislation which compels all educators to treat all Student Patients in the same manner in all Ontario schools. What we believe may be more fruitful is: (A) an express recognition in the Education Act that a Student Patient's constitutionally-mandated right to reasonable access to medical marijuana includes the right to reasonable access to such medicine while at school; and (B) the Minister of Education mandating that all Ontario school boards promptly adopt, implement and enforce policies which facilitate such reasonable access. In order to ensure that school boards are properly motivated to implement such policies the Education Act should provide that where a school board has not adopted any such policy within a reasonable period of time (for example, six months from the date of the required amendments to the Education Act) "reasonable access to medical marijuana while at school" will be interpreted as "unrestricted access, anywhere on school property other than in a classroom where other students are present". The prospect of that result should, we hope, cause school boards to spring into action.

So, what might a school board policy on the use of medical marijuana in school look like? We don't know, but the following considerations may aid school boards in focusing their resources on the right questions:

  1. Verification & Privacy – school boards will have to adapt their existing policies on student use of medication to address how they will verify a Student Patient's medical need for marijuana (both in terms of the Student Patient's medical document (e.g., prescription) and any daily prescribed consumption limits) and safeguard the Student Patient's privacy.
  2. Location – where will Student Patients be allowed to consume medical marijuana? The number of Student Patients in a school, the geographic location of the school (both in terms of climate and proximity to other community spaces) and the availability of resources (both in terms of physical space and personnel) should all be considered when determining where Student Patients are required to consume their medicine.
  3. Mode of Consumption – should Student Patients be limited to certain forms of consumption? It seems untenable that a school board will permit smoking medical marijuana at school, but consideration should be given as whether Student Patients should be prohibited from other forms of consumption such as using a vapourizer? Consideration should be given to technological advances in delivery devices (e.g., personal vapourizers) that are becoming increasingly smokeless and odourless and thus may become palatable to school boards as viable means of consumption.
  4. Stakeholder Education – as with all controlled substances, it is imperative that educators, students, parents and other stakeholders are properly educated as to the rights of Student Patients, the potential impact of child and adolescent medical marijuana use and the school board's policy on the use of medical marijuana. The school board should consider how best to educate its particular stakeholder group.
  5. Academic Accommodation – what academic accommodation, if any, should be provided to Student Patients?
  6. The Role of Research and Technology – perhaps most importantly, any policy should include mandated regular re-evaluation of these issues as cannabis research, scientific evidence and cannabis technology continue to evolve. Advancements in research and technology will, for example, lead to the establishment of more accurate guidelines for proper dosage, more precise delivery methods and smoke-less consumption alternatives. In turn, a better understanding of proper dosage could assist Student Patients in scheduling the use of their medicine in relation to their school schedule. Novel delivery methods (e.g., inhalers) and smoke-less alternatives (e.g., capsules, lozenges) may address the health concerns of second-hand smoke, nuisance smells, and general distraction to the remaining student body.

As the number of Student Patients increase, schools will undoubtedly face additional accommodation challenges. Strict, top down, prescriptive solutions from Federal and Provincial governments to the school boards may make it difficult for school boards to tailor Student Patient accommodation in light of their individual and community circumstances. As such, school boards should have a seat at the table and, importantly, private industry and government need to dedicate sufficient resources to continuing stakeholder education, scientific research and technological advancement. We are currently in a situation where our legal framework has outpaced our practical reality and we must react in a way that provides the greatest accommodation for Student Patient needs without producing a deleterious effect on a school's overall learning environment.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.