Pediatric Medical Cannabis Access in Schools
October 21, 2020 | Andrew Coon
A national perspective on safe access for students
At ASA, our goal is to ensure that every state has sensible cannabis policies that create safe and legal access for all patients. This means we believe that patients who medicate with cannabis should receive treatment equal to that of patients who medicate with any other drug.
One of the major factors that has spurred the development of state medical cannabis programs has been first-hand experiences with patients whose lives have changed dramatically thanks to cannabis. Many of which have been pediatric patients. Facing things like cancer or seizures, these children have experienced vast improvements in their quality of life thanks to medical cannabis. While state medical cannabis programs recognize the importance of access for children, many states still do not include provisions for minors to access their medication at the place they spend the most time outside the home; their school.
While very early medical cannabis laws focused on only accommodating individuals reducing suffering at the end of their lives (compassionate-use model) cannabis is now moving to become a front line treatment option where it can be incorporated into an everyday therapeutic regimen. However, only 11 states- California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington- currently allow minors to access their medication at school.
Due to school restrictions, in order to allow pediatric patients access to their medicine during school hours, most state programs require caregivers to sign out the child from school, remove them from school grounds, administer their medication at home, return them to school and sign them back in to continue the rest of their school day. In some cases, this must happen multiple times per day. Caregivers for children with serious health conditions already face so many challenges, access to medicine during school should not be another one..
However, there is a reason that many states require this extraordinary process and a large part of it comes from a single concept; the drug-free school zone.
The root of this issue dates back to the evolution in drug policy and narcotics policing during the Nixon administration. The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act , signed in 1970, most notably included the Controlled Substances Act which pulled together and updated numerous narcotics policies to shape the rigid and stratified system of drug classification we use to this day. With this legislation, cannabis was given a Schedule I classification: “...[marihuana] has a high potential for abuse… or no currently accepted medical use…” which put it at the top of the new federal narcotics regime’s priority list. Also included in this bill was the first Drug-Free zone law.
Drug-free school zones began to spring up all across the country in the 1970’s. These zones were framed as precautions to keep harmful narcotics away from children by implementing increased penalties for drug possession within the defined range, usually 1,000 feet, of schools. Possessing drugs within an arbitrary distance of a school is no evidence that someone is planning to sell drugs to children. Whole neighborhoods fall within school zones; in Tennessee drug free school zones account for roughly 5.5% of the state’s total land area.
Even as states have legalized cannabis, these school zone laws have remained. Parents concerned that legalization may lead to their child’s substance abuse were reassured that drug-free school zones would prevent children from wandering into a cannabis dispensary. That’s why we often see zoning laws blocking dispensaries from opening within 1,000 feet of a school.
Even states which have created exceptions to school zone policies have not all crafted policy to the same effect, and all of them still have a way to go before there is equity amongst our youngest patients. Only California, Colorado, DC, and Virginia actually allow school staff to administer treatment, while the other states require treatment be administered by a caregiver, typically the parent. Even in these states, the law also features language that allows individual schools to opt out of allowing pediatric treatment if they feel under threat of losing federal funding.
The creation of drug-free school zones and their retention amidst legalization efforts has created a situation in which caregivers and children, otherwise under the protection of the law, are vulnerable to criminal penalties simply for pursuing an education.
A child at risk of severe seizures should not have to give up their lunch time with friends to get driven 1,000 feet away from campus to take their medicine, and a parent shouldn’t have to give up their whole day to make sure that happens. The fight against the school zone policy has been led by parents and students who have lived that experience- and fought to make it easier for their peers in the future to get the treatment they need. Their names are often found atop the legislation they have championed.
Below are links to the existing legislation alongside a short summary of how that legislation affects the parties in question. We hope that patients, caregivers and advocates can use this as a resource to help change their own state’s policies.
California- SB 1127 “Jojo’s Act”
- Named for a San Francisco teenager with debilitating epilepsy.
- Allows individual school districts to administer medical cannabis to pediatric patients on school grounds.
- Authorizes nurses or other designated personnel to dose or assist patients with dose.
- Excludes smokable or vapable forms.
- Allows an exception from normal criminal penalties for school employees designated to possess and administer medical cannabis treatment at school.
- Nurses may administer.
- Schools are not mandated to follow this legislation if they feel at risk of losing federal funding.
Delaware- The Delaware Medical Marijuana Act
- Allows caregivers to administer on school grounds and on buses.
- Nurses or school staff may not administer unless they are also the parent or legal guardian.
District of Columbia- Restrictions on the use of Medical Marijuana
- Explicitly gives student patients the right to medicate on campus if the school has a policy in place.
- Allows individual schools to put into place policies for administration on school grounds but specifies nothing else.
- Everything is essentially left to individual schools.
Illinois- HB 4870 “Ashley’s Law”
- Allows parental caregivers to administer on campus or on the bus.
- Specifically states it does not require a staff member to administer medicine to a student; suggests that they cannot.
- Schools can opt out if they fear the loss of federal funding.
- Must be administered by the primary caregiver (parent, guardian, or legal custodian) of the student.
- No school staff can possess medicine.
- Can be administered on school grounds or a school bus.
Maryland- HB 617 Connor and Regina’s Law
- Allows for multiple adults to serve as a students caregiver for the purposes of administration but does not allow for these extra caregivers to be school personnel.
- Allows for administration by caregivers at school and on school buses and at any school related event.
Oklahoma- Decision by Oklahoma City School Board
- Not yet legally solidified state-wide.
- Students may use medical cannabis on school grounds so long as the caregiver is present and in possession of the cannabis.
Pennsylvania- DoH Guidance for Schools and School Districts
- Caregivers may administer on school grounds, no mention of the bus.
- Schools are required to provide safe & private location for administration.
- Protects any school board employee who administers THC-A oil on school grounds to a student.
- No provision for caregivers.
Washington- HB 1095
- Authorizes parents or guardians to administer at school or on school buses.
- Allows superintendents to suspend for their district if federal funding is threatened.