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Call for more education after kids in Shilo eat cannabis gummies

It is believed a student took edibles onto the school bus and shared them, thinking it was regular candy, police said.
An incident in which elementary school students in Shilo became ill after eating cannabis gummies shows that more must be done to educate parents and children about the risks and safe storage of edible cannabis products.

Members of a tight-knit school community in Shilo are concerned after a handful of elementary students were hospitalized last week following what police concluded was the “inadvertent” consumption of cannabis gummies on a morning bus ride.

The initial investigation by Manitoba RCMP determined several children between the ages of five and nine — all of whom were on the same route to École La Source on Nov. 23 — became ill shortly upon their arrival to the K-12 building.

It is believed a student took edibles onto the school bus and shared them, thinking it was regular candy, police said.

Sources told the Winnipeg Free Press the initial pupil who became ill and was transported to the hospital directly from the school had a fever, began vomiting and showed other flu and poisoning-like symptoms.

“It’s scary. You can’t control everything with your kids — but it just feels like this was something that we didn’t have to worry about 10 years ago,” said Suzanne Chiupka, a mother of two at the rural school in the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine.

Chiupka said more public education about identifying edibles and safe storage is necessary.

The recent events at the francophone school, located about 30 kilometres east of Brandon, prompted her to do research and discuss the subject with her Grade 1 and 2 students — who had no shortage of questions.

“The work isn’t over to make it safe for kids,” she said, calling the timing of a provincial proposal to remove a social responsibility fee paid by locally licensed cannabis retailers “awkward.”

On Nov. 27, the province announced plans to end a tax meant to ensure vendors contributed to the social costs associated with legal cannabis consumption, “including public education, safety and health care,” as of Jan. 1.

New Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority legislation introduced would remove the six per cent fee. The province has indicated its intention to sign onto the federal excise tax, while Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Corp. will continue to make contributions recognizing the social impacts of its products.

The proposal was tabled days after the bus incident and a month after Winnipeg parents found illegal THC edibles in Halloween trick-or-treat bags. The latter incident resulted in two adults being arrested and each charged with 13 separate offences related to criminal negligence and distributing cannabis to youth.

It remains unclear whether charges will be laid in connection to the Shilo incident; an RCMP investigation is ongoing.

As far as cannabis chef Allan Pineda is concerned, all edibles and cannabis products should be treated like medication and stored as such.

“Would you leave your meds just lying around anywhere for the kid to grab them? You should store them out of kids’ reach or use locks,” Pineda said, noting he is in favour of reducing fees on local cannabis retailers so large companies don’t run them out of business.

In a memo to families, École La Source principal Geneviève Nadeau said a student developed “worrisome symptoms that led us to believe that their health was in danger,” last week.

“The health of our students and staff being a priority, the (first) student was transported by ambulance to determine the cause of the symptoms,” the school leader wrote in the Nov. 24 letter, adding three more pupils became ill, so their caregivers were called and each urged to visit the hospital as a precautionary measure.

Since the four pupils took the same bus, administrators’ initial hypothesis was a leak had caused fumes and heightened carbon dioxide levels — in turn, making the children ill. A mechanic’s inspection ruled out that theory.

The division confirmed a driver’s search of the vehicle did not yield any evidence, but internal video footage was sent to police.

It was later determined that only three students had ingested cannabis edibles, and the other student was ill for an unrelated reason.

Superintendent Alain Laberge said families were reminded about the ban on sharing food, a rule primarily in place to prevent allergic reactions.

All of the affected students are feeling better, Laberge said. “We just want to tell them that we’re behind them, that we wish their children (a speedy recovery), to recuperate as quickly as possible, and if they need help at school, we have people who can help.”

Aside from the letter sent home one day after the incident, one parent — whose son was in the same classroom as the girl who started complaining about feeling ill — was unaware of any other open discussion of the incident.

“The kids were left with more questions than answers, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing,” said the parent, who agreed to an interview on the condition of anonymity to protect their child’s identity. “Something traumatic happened to these kids and it happened at school.”

Teachers do not wait for these kinds of events to have discussions about drugs and consent, Laberge said, although he indicated they may revisit lessons after a troubling situation.

The superintendent said schools also rely on parents to help educate their students on sensitive topics.

— with files from Danielle Da Silva

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