Nova Scotia

'I made a mistake,' says headmaster who expelled boys for eating cannabis fudge

The headmaster of King's-Edgehill School said after reflecting on the expulsion, he realized it could have unintended consequences.

King's-Edgehill School administrator reverses expulsion, saying it could have unintended consequences

Some boys from King's-Edgehill School in Windsor, N.S., were expelled for consuming cannabis edibles on campus. The headmaster later revoked the expulsion. (Paul Darrow/Reuters)

After expelling a handful of students for eating cannabis-infused fudge on campus, the headmaster of a private boarding school in Windsor, N.S., has welcomed them back, saying his decision to expel them was a mistake.

Three weeks ago, some boys at King's-Edgehill School ate marijuana fudge and their physical reaction was so extreme that they got scared. One of the boys asked for help from a teacher.

Headmaster Joseph Seagram would not say how many boys were involved, but said they were senior students at the school, which serves grades 6-12.

Seagram said the boys experienced vomiting, nausea, delirium, disorientation and an elevated heart rate. A nurse provided care for them and they recovered.

Zero tolerance

King's-Edgehill School has a zero-tolerance policy on drugs, meaning students caught consuming or distributing drugs are expelled. So Seagram enforced the policy.

But after the boys' expulsion, he thought more about his decision.

"Was this the right thing to do? What is the message to everybody?" he said in an interview. "I realized that in fact there was an unintended potential consequence here."

Seagram said he worried the threat of expulsion would discourage students from coming forward for help — even if someone was in medical distress due to drug consumption.

"What if someone passes out in a snowdrift and the kids are so scared of being expelled that they don't get help and so someone dies?" he said.

"What if someone passes out in the bathroom and their friends all know but they're so scared about getting help because they know their friend will be expelled, that they let their friend asphyxiate on their own vomit?"

Expulsion reversed

At the school's weekly assembly on Wednesday, Seagram told the student body about his decision to reverse the expulsion.

In a letter sent to parents on Wednesday, he was blunt: "I am writing today because I made a mistake," the letter begins.

Seagram told the CBC it wasn't easy to admit that.

"Sometimes it's easier to be a brick wall and just dig your feet in and just move forward. But in the end, you have to be comfortable with that feeling in your gut," he said. "And I owe it not just to my own conscience, but to the children who will be in the care of the school for years to come."

Seagram said in future if a student is caught with drugs, expulsion will still be on the table. But if someone comes forward to ask for help, "we can show compassion."

'Danger looks so delicious'

Edible cannabis products won't be legally available for sale in Canada for about a year, despite the legalization of recreational marijuana last month.

Seagram said the students obtained the fudge off campus. The case was the school's first experience dealing with an edible cannabis product. 

Seagram said he hopes parents and children talk openly about drugs, but he's fearful about the potential impact of edibles on children.

"There are gummy bears and cookies and brownies and fudge, and they all look yummy and normal, and yet they are so scary and so unregulated and so available.… How can they recognize danger when the danger looks so delicious?"

Cannabis and children

Dr. Ryan Sommers, the medical officer of health for the Nova Scotia Health Authority's northern zone, said edible cannabis products can cause serious health effects in children.

Symptoms of cannabis consumption in children could include lethargy, sleepiness, trouble breathing, a reduced breathing rate, motor impairment, tremors and an increased heart rate.

He said since there is no antidote to reverse the effects of cannabis, if children come in having consumed it, they are placed on an oxygen monitor, their respiratory rate is observed and doctors wait for the effects to wear off.

"But if someone has consumed a large amount of it and their breathing rates have decreased and they have not seen a health-care provider, they could get really sick and yes, they could die from that," he said.

Sommers said overdoses are a risk with edibles because consumers may not feel high right away.

"They're not giving it time to get absorbed into their body and then they eat more and more so they end up actually consuming a large dose of it in a very short period of time," he said.

People should take steps to keep cannabis edibles away from children, Sommers said.

About the Author

Frances Willick is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Please contact her with feedback, story ideas or tips at frances.willick@cbc.ca