Schools mull medical pot policies
AUBURN, Maine — Medical marijuana has been legal in some states for two decades, but school districts and lawmakers are only now starting to grapple with thorny issues about student use of a drug still illegal under federal law.
“School districts are trying to find their way and navigate this landscape as laws develop and social norms change,” said Francisco Negron, general counsel of the National School Boards Association. “This is a situation in which the changing social norms are ahead of the existing operational structure.”
The possibility of medical marijuana in schools raises a number of questions for school officials, such as who will administer it, how to prevent it from being redistributed by students and even the legality of having it on campus. Only three of the 23 states where medical marijuana is legal have seen schools or state officials set up rules, according to the pro-reform Marijuana Policy Project.
This week, a school committee in Auburn, a Maine city of about 23,000, approved a policy to allow students to have medical marijuana under certain conditions. It would have to be approved by a physician and administered in school by a parent or guardian, Auburn Assistant Superintendent Michelle McClellan said. Nurses wouldn’t be able to administer the drug, and students would not be permitted to smoke it.
The decision in Auburn came about two months after a New Jersey school became the first in the country to allow medical marijuana. The Larc School instituted the policy after 16-year-old Genny Barbour, who suffers from potentially life-threatening epileptic seizures, fought for the right to take edible marijuana. A nurse at the special education school in Bellmawr provides Genny with her midday dosage of cannabis oil.
In Colorado, the law permits parents or professional caregivers to come onto school grounds to administer medical marijuana if the district has adopted a policy allowing it, according to Megan McDermott, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education. School nurses or staff cannot administer it.
Fresh claims about pediatric use of medical marijuana have prompted schools to look at the issue, said Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics generally opposes medical marijuana but issued a statement a year ago saying “exceptions should be made for compassionate use in children with debilitating or life-limiting diseases.”
Proponents of pot’s use as a treatment for everything from seizures to chronic pain trumpet the recent policy changes as wins for student health. Others who doubt the wisdom of allowing pot in schools raise concerns whether the changes will result in schools violating federal laws.