CO: D51 Needs A Policy On Medical Marijuana

Photo Credit: Reuters

Two years ago the state Legislature passed a law allowing a parent or primary caregiver to administer medical marijuana on school grounds.

Part of the reason for that was because of the conflict between state and federal law. In Colorado, school staff has not been required to administer the drug and school nurses have not administered it since marijuana is still illegal under federal law and doing so would violate the Colorado Nurse Practice Act.

But that may be changing. Colorado lawmakers this year passed House Bill 1286, which enables (but doesn’t force) school nurses and qualified staff members to administer medical marijuana to students at school. The bill is awaiting Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature.

The state has recognized what Mesa County Valley School District officials have seemingly been reluctant to grasp. Medical marijuana can be a difference-maker in the lives of children with debilitating or life-limiting diseases. Despite the Legislature authorizing parents to administer the drug on school grounds, D51 has yet to adopt a policy specifying how they can do that.

Part of the rationale for authorizing nurses to administer medical marijuana is that it saves Colorado parents are unnecessary trip to school to provide their children with medical marijuana.

By not having a policy in place that restricts where treatments can take place or what forms of nonsmokable cannabis can be administered, the district has actually left the issue wide open. The law is such that in the absence of a policy, parents and caregivers legally have no limitation on where to administer treatments.

But D51 school board members acknowledged growing pressure to adopt a policy concerning the issue, suggesting some confusion over the law. Some parents and marijuana advocates may feel that lack of a policy means they can’t take cannabidiol oils, creams and edibles on school grounds at all.

But the implications of HB 1286 should compel the school board to finally devise a reasonable policy. If HB 1286 fails to become law, then pressure mounts for the district to accommodate parents. If the governor signs it, the district now has to decide two issues: the parameters under which parents can take advantage of the law to attend to their children’s medical needs and whether the district will have its nurses administer the drugs.

It’s understandable why the District 51 school board has been slow to act. Colorado elected officials live in fear of the implications of forming policy around a drug that the federal government still considers illegal. We saw it earlier this year when the Legislature amended a bipartisan bill that would have allowed the state to issue more debt for school construction and repay the debt with pot taxes. But lawmakers balked at the idea when the industry faces an uncertain regulatory future. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has provided no ironclad assurances that states that have legalized marijuana will not suffer repercussions for violating the federal ban on marijuana.

District 51 has certainly been judicious and deliberate, but it’s time to adopt a policy. They’ve already given themselves plenty of leeway to back out of it if the federal government indicates that the district’s federal funding is jeopardized by allowing medical marijuana on campus.