Illinois school children suffering from epilepsy or other debilitating conditions will now be able to use medical cannabis on school grounds, thanks to a new bill signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner this week. House Bill 4870 allows parents or guardians to administer a “cannabis-infused product” to any student on school property or a school bus, as long as the student is enrolled in the state's medical cannabis program. The law does give school officials to prohibit the dispensation of medical marijuana if they deem it is disrupting the school's educational environment or exposing other children to the drug, however.
HB 4870 is popularly known as “Ashley's Law,” in reference to Ashley Surin, an 11-year-old girl suffering from leukemia who had previously been banned from using medical cannabis at school. Although Surin was legally allowed to use medical marijuana under state law, school district officials were concerned that their employees could face prosecution if they administered a federally-prohibited drug on school property. The girl's parents eventually sued the school district over their decision to prevent her from using her medicine, arguing that the ban was in violation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
This January, an Illinois judge ruled in Surin's favor, making her the only student in the state legally allowed to use medical cannabis at school. State legislators immediately moved to correct this discrepancy by proposing HB 4870, which was unanimously passed by both the state House and Senate and then signed into law by Gov. Rauner on Wednesday.
“Children shouldn’t have to choose between their medication and their education,” state Senator Cristina Castro, who sponsored the bill, said to WLS-AM 890 News. “Qualified patients have the right to have access to their medicine no matter where they are. I’m happy to see this measure signed into law.”
“With support from the House, Senate, and governor’s office, we are grateful that Ashley’s Law will help many children dependent on medical cannabis attend school in Illinois,” the Surin family said. “We want to send a huge heartfelt thank you from our family to Senator Castro, Governor Rauner, Representative Lang, our attorney Steve Glink, and our doctors for changing our lives. It’s a miracle.”
The federal prohibition of cannabis has made state-legal medical cannabis a thorny issue for schools in many states. IDEA mandates that all school districts must accommodate children with disabilities, which also means that children must be allowed to take any medicine recommended by their physicians. Yet federal law also prohibits all illegal drugs, including medical marijuana, from being present on school grounds, and school districts that violate this rule are subject to prosecution or funding cuts.
Throughout the country, several legal challenges have been fought over the use of medical cannabis on school property. In Arizona, a student who was arrested for possessing a tiny amount of medical marijuana is his dorm room brought his case all the way to the state's second-highest court. The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in the student's favor, overturning a 2012 law banning medical marijuana use on college campuses. Maine, Colorado, and New Jersey have passed laws allowing medical marijuana on school grounds, as well, and lawmakers in California and Georgia are also fighting to pass similar laws this year.