Colorado’s Clear Creek County just became one of the first US school districts to let school staff directly administer medical cannabis to young marijuana patients.
One-by-one, states with legal cannabis are slowly letting schools permit on-site medical cannabis use for students with debilitating conditions. Colorado has been one of these states for the past few years, but Clear Creek County took this policy a step further.
According to Clear Creek County officials, as well as medical cannabis activists, school staff must be allowed to give medical marijuana to student patients who suffer from life-threatening disorders like epileptic seizures. Time is a critical factor during a medical emergency, and student patients cannot wait for their parents or caretakers to arrive at the school simply to administer a few drops of cannabis oil.
"It really passed without any conflict. I'm not sure if it's because people aren't tracking it, or if they're just philosophically okay with it," said Clear Creek County Superintendent Karen Quanbeck to Westword. "I think it's great for kids, so that to me has been the driver all along. Every child should have access to the education he or she needs. I am now wondering what will happen next, in terms of other districts and superintendents reaching out, and if they have questions. I'm curious to see if families come to our district for access."
She explained that attorneys who reviewed the policy said that since Colorado schools were already breaking federal law by allowing weed on campus in the first place, there wasn’t any additional legal risk with letting school staff administer cannabis-based medicines.
Only by technicality are Colorado’s schools breaking federal law. But federal laws also states that schools must accommodate all students with medical conditions and disabilities — regardless of the type or how severe — or risk being prosecuted for discrimination and child endangerment. So, there's that at least.
Since 2016 — two years after the state began recreational marijuana sales, and 16 years after the state approved medical marijuana — Colorado schools could allow medical marijuana on school grounds for ill students. But only the student’s parents, guardians, or state-approved caretakers could administer the cannabis medications on school grounds. School staff and officials, such as nurses or teachers, could not touch medical cannabis out of fear it could result in suspension of professional licenses or even federal funding.
The first Colorado law that permitted medical marijuana on school grounds, called Jack’s Law, was named after Jack Splitt, a teenage marijuana patient with cerebral palsy who experienced chronic muscle spasticity. Jack’s Law required all Colorado schools to craft their own medical marijuana policies, but stopped short at requiring school staff to participate in giving out cannabis-derived medications.
Gallery — Let's Legalize It Already!
Then, in 2018, the state signed Quintin’s Amendment into law, which expanded Jack’s Law to include school personnel. Under Quintin’s Amendment, school nurses and other staff were also allowed to dispense medical marijuana on campus, but the law did not force schools to adopt the policy; schools could opt-in or opt-out as they desired. For the past year, Colorado school districts were hesitant to take advantage of Quintin’s Amendment, but Clear Creek County decided to take a bold stance and went ahead with it anyway.
"My son is maxed out on his current medication,” said Autumn Brooks, the mother of 11-year-old Clear Creek County student Raven Booher, to Westword. Booher, who is autistic, has not yet been approved for a medical marijuana, but Brooks is hoping that once he becomes registered, school officials can give him cannabis medicines when his mother, who is also disabled and taking care of another disabled child, is not available. “He's on five pharmaceuticals, four of which have black-box warnings. If we go up any more on his meds, we're going to kill him. If cannabis doesn't work, we haven't harmed him, and we'll stop."
Colorado is not the only US jurisdiction that lets school staff give medical marijuana to students. Washington, DC — the home of the federal government — approved a law similar to Quintin’s Amendment and Jack’s Law in September, where school officials could dispense medical cannabis, too. California approved a limited school medical marijuana measure this month, but only parents, guardians, and caretakers can administer the cannabis medicines to students.
Follow Randy Robinson on Twitter