Federal and state cannabis laws are falling further and further out of sync, as federal drug prohibition laws constantly interfere with progressive states trying to advance cannabis reform. The latest battleground between federal and state cannabis laws regards public schools, where school district supervisors are being forced to debate whether or not to risk violating federal law to allow state-legal medical marijuana on campus.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates that all American children receive a "free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment," which requires all school districts to accommodate children with disabilities. But the federal government also bans the possession or use of all illegal drugs, including state-legal medical cannabis, within 1,000 feet of any school. Any school district that chooses to allow their students to use medical marijuana is violating this law, which could potentially lead to federal funding cuts.
"This is a problem for schools," Brad Bixler, communications specialist with the North Bend School District in Oregon, said to The World. "What we're finding is that some kids have a need and families have reached outside of the traditional realms of medicine for products derived from the cannabis plant, which are showing to have benefits for some things these kids deal with."
Bixler explained that students who are registered medical marijuana patients "could have an identified need to access some of the cannabis plant during the school day," but "because it's not a prescription from a doctor, we can't handle it through our prescription medication policy and it isn't something we can sign off on because it's not an over-the-counter medication. We're really restricted on what we can do. We have to be very careful and be aware of what may be coming onto our campuses and how to handle it."
In California, school district supervisors are also struggling to reconcile the federal prohibition of cannabis with the federal mandate to provide appropriate support to children with medical needs. In the North Bay area, Jana Adams, a mother of a child suffering from Dravet Syndrome, hired cannabis attorney Joe Rogoway to help after her local district informed her that her daughter would not be allowed to bring her medicine to school. Cathy Myhers, Assistant Superintendent for Student Services for the Rincon Valley Union School District, told KALW News that the board feels "as though our hands are tied. If we can't provide her that rescue medication, we can't serve her on a public school campus."
Myhers is one of several California school district officials who have met with state Senator Mike McGuire to advocate for a new state law that would allow medical cannabis at schools. Similar laws exist in Maine, Colorado, and New Jersey, where parents, legal guardians, or primary caregivers can be authorized to administer medical marijuana to students. California's new cannabis legalization law prohibits any cannabis possession in schools, as do the state's health codes, but pressure from advocates like Adams, Rogoway, and Myhers could help enact a change to these laws.
Unfortunately, while changes to state laws could resolve the issue on a local level, federal law still blocks all cannabis use on school grounds. The states that have passed laws to protect student use of medical marijuana are still in full violation of federal law, and are at risk of losing federal funding, especially under the staunchly anti-cannabis Trump administration. It will require a change to federal law to ensure that children suffering from epilepsy and other illnesses are granted unfettered access to one of the most effective treatments available today.
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