Medical marijuana is now legal in 26 states and the District of Columbia, leaving a lot of public school systems and parents in uncharted territory when it comes to medical marijuana and school grounds. This is primarily due to the conflict of state laws and federal laws regarding cannabis use. As long as the federal government refuses to acknowledge the medical uses of cannabis, schools where medical marijuana is administered on campus risk breaking federal law and endangering federal funding for vital programs.
Navigating the Public School System
While many states have taken steps to address school use in their legislation, these protections don’t extend to the federal level and schools are left to the good graces of the discretion of federal agencies, a place some campuses simply aren’t comfortable being left in. According to Francisco Negron, general counsel of the National School Boards Association, “School districts are trying to find their way and navigate this landscape as laws develop and social norms change. This is a situation in which the changing social norms are ahead of the existing operational structure.”
A plethora of questions arise when we start to examine medical marijuana use in schools. Who will administer it? After all, school administrators who administer it on campus could technically be violating federal laws regarding drug-free workplaces and endanger federal funding for these schools. What methods of administration should be allowed on campus?
Smoking poses a risk of contact by students who do not hold a prescription whereas some edibles may be deemed too easy to be accidentally ingested by an unsuspecting student
How can schools prohibit the substance from falling into the wrong hands? If school administrators cannot store it in the same way they would other prescriptions students bring to school, how do they keep it from being re-distributed illegally?
Administering Cannabis Meds on Campus
In some states, such as New Jersey and Colorado, there are legislative requirements that allow only non-smokable cannabis products to be administered on campus and that a parent, legal guardian, or primary caregiver must administer the substance. This last requirement helps protect school administrators from violating the federal drug-free workplace requirements but also places an additional burden on parents, especially those of children who require multiple doses throughout the school day. Still, allowing parents to come onto campus to administer meds allows students to attend for a full day of instruction rather than a partial day and allows students who may not otherwise be able to take advantage of public education in their area to engage just like other students. Other states, while permitting on-campus use via legislation, leave it up to each individual campus to decide if they wish to allow it’s use or not.
So, why is allowing medical marijuana to be administered at school such a big deal? For many students who utilize medical marijuana, it is the only means by which they can achieve the quality of life necessary for them to attend school in the first place. Medical marijuana often needs to be administered multiple times a day in shifts that cannot be worked around school hours without altering the child’s attendance and disrupting their school day.
As any parent knows, interruptions throughout a school day adversely affect retention and sometimes even behavior
When a child must be removed from the classroom for an extended period of time to travel off campus just to take their medicine, they miss instruction other children in their class are receiving, a distraction made even longer and more noticeable when they could simply take their medicine at school. Janie Maedler, mother of Rylie Maedler, the ten year old for whom Delaware’s legislation allowing medical marijuana on campus was named, described it like this, “[Allowing medical marijuana on campus] will not only be a relief for Rylie, but other more medically fragile children who should never be in harsh weather, who are more difficult to transport off school grounds. It means there will be less disruption to her school day, so she can stay on task, and she will not have to leave the school property in the weather every single day to take her medicine. She will no longer feel singled out due to having to leave every single day and then come back because of her type of medicine.”
Pediatric Medical Conditions and Cannabis
There are may pediatric conditions that can be treated with cannabis, most notably epileptic seizures. According to Dr. Francis Jensen,
“In cases of unrelenting epilepsy in very small children, we look for anything that will block these seizures. It turns out that there is a group of children with early life epilepsy such as Dravet and a couple of other of these disorders that actually appear to be positively responding to cannabidiol compound.”
But it turns out that epilepsy is just one of the uses for pediatric medical marijuana. Other conditions include pediatric cancers, autism, motor disorders, and cystic fibrosis.
With so many conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana, and so many children relying on it to maintain some semblance of a normal life, legislatures across the country are faced with the task of integrating their treatment into the normal school day without placing school administrators in federal cross hairs or endangering other students. It’s a balance that not every state has been able to achieve, but with brave parents and activists sharing the stories of children helped by medical marijuana, we will get there.
If you are unsure of your state’s stance on medical marijuana and schools, check out your state’s website and ask school officials before administering anything on campus. If your state is one which has not yet passed legislation addressing the issue, get involved and share your story! Legislators need to see that this is not an abstract concept, but rather the real life struggle of their constituents and their children. Make it real for them. Attend hearings, write your politicians, and spread the word! Together, we can enlighten a world that desperately needs this information!