Sarah Leamon: If young children consume parents' weed, mom and dad could find themselves in a legal bind

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      A mother in Brandon, Manitoba, is speaking out about a scary ordeal that unfolded in her household after her two young children accessed a hidden stash of cannabis-infused edibles.    

      The woman, who has not yet been identified by the media, discovered that her five-year-old son had climbed up onto a counter to reach a kitchen cupboard over the stove where she kept medication, including a THC-laced chocolate bar. He ate some of the bar, sharing it with his two-year-old sister.

      While both children have since made a full recovery, things took a terrifying turn when the youngest child suffered a seizure and was rushed to the hospital. Doctors believe that the seizure occurred as a result of brain swelling, which was brought on by the high dose of THC that she had ingested. They put her into a medically induced coma with a breathing tube until she could be stabilized.

      Today, both children are back at home with their mother and although police are investigating the incident, she has yet to be charged.

      Under our new laws, it is a criminal offence to give cannabis to anyone under the age of 19 in any manner. Those charged could face up to 14 years in jail. 

      And although this mother did not give cannabis to her children, per se, her failure to properly secure her stash and prevent her children from accessing it could add up to a criminal negligence charge.

      According to the Criminal Code, criminal negligence can occur by way of either an act or omission. It includes failing to do something that is one’s duty to do, thereby showing a wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of others. 

      While most charges of criminal negligence in this country have involved the operation of a motor vehicle, that is not always the case.  

      Criminal negligence is broadly defined.

      Moreover, parents and guardians have special legal duties in relation to their children. They are required by law to provide necessities of life to children under the age of 16 and to take reasonable steps to protect their children to a reasonable and foreseeable degree.

      Only time will tell whether or not the mother in this case will face charges; and although her alarming experience may be long from over, we can still learn a valuable lesson from it today.

      With the recent legalization of cannabis, we can expect it to become an increasingly regular and normalized household item. This will be particularly so after infused products, like edibles and topicals, are legalized. 

      Although the government is putting safety considerations at the forefront of developing rules that will govern the production, sale, and promotion of edibles, topicals, and concentrates, it will be almost impossible to eliminate the risk to minors altogether. 

      The question, therefore, boils down to what parents should do to properly protect their children from accidental exposure to cannabis and cannabis products. So, here are three practical and easy tips to help keep your kids safe. 

      1. Talk to them

      This seems obvious enough, but sometimes it can be difficult to do.  Aside from the potential awkwardness of having “the drug talk” with your children, navigating how to approach this multifaceted and complex issue can be a daunting challenge in itself. But, if your children are old enough to understand, the best thing to do would is to talk to them. 

      Having a frank and open discussion about cannabis is likely to yield excellent results. Parents should consider talking to their children about cannabis in a way that is informed and open to dialogue, while also setting strict ground rules around expectations. 

      Of course, it is always up to a parent to determine what age is the “right age” to have this kind of talk; but with cannabis becoming more commonplace, sooner is probably better. 

      By making children aware of cannabis, it is far more likely that they will treat it appropriately and leave it alone.

      2. Clearly label cannabis products

      Parents should also be sure to properly label all cannabis products at home. Make sure that labels are clear and obvious. Using bright colors or a universal symbol for “cannabis” or “danger” could be appropriate.

      Keeping products containing THC or CBD in clearly marked containers or packages may help children in identify what they are handling and deter them from ingesting them. 

      But there are no guarantees.

      3. Lock it up

      Because there are no guarantees, parents would be wise to store their cannabis and cannabis products in a secure manner.

      After all, the best way to make sure that children do not get into your supply is to make your supply fundamentally inaccessible. 

      As the mother in Brandon has unfortunately discovered, simply putting cannabis products out of children’s sight and reach may not be good enough. 

      A tamper-proof locked box, drawer or cabinet might be the best tool to protect your children—and yourself—from an unexpected trip to the hospital…and the police station. 

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