CO: Hickenlooper Signs Bill Allowing School Personnel To Administer Medicinal Cannabis

Photo Credit: Bente Birkeland

Colorado parents of children using medical cannabis breathed a sigh of relief when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1286 into law, allowing school nurses, or other school personnel, to administer cannabis-based medicine to children for whom it is prescribed.

“This is life-changing,” says Hannah Lovato, who worked with her state House representative, Dylan Roberts, D-Eagle, to draft the bill.

Nicknamed “Quintin’s Amendment” after Lovato’s 9-year-old son, the bill modifies “Jack’s Law,” passed in 2016, which allowed parents to give children their cannabis-based medicine on school grounds. (That law was named for the late Jack Splitt, 15, who used cannabis to alleviate pain from a condition associated with his cerebral palsy.)

Quintin’s epilepsy and Tourette Syndrome once made school daunting and difficult. He was reading below his grade level, had trouble completing work on time, and got frequently bullied at school.

But all that changed when Lovato began treating Quintin with medicinal cannabis. “It didn’t take long for him to start building friendships again,” Lovato says. “His reading improved greatly, and all of a sudden he was happy and walking through the halls with a smile.”

Jack’s Law was a big step forward for families like the Lovatos, but it didn’t go quite far enough. Quintin needs three daily doses of his THC-CBD medication to properly treat his conditions, and as a legal assistant in and out of court, Lovato couldn’t always afford to take time out of her work day to make sure Quintin got his second dose.

Without it, Quintin’s condition regressed; he began having absence seizures again, and with greater frequency. Quintin will suddenly black out for several minutes in class, and come back confused, distracted and frustrated, but to most teachers he just looks like he got lost in a daydream.

Lovato eventually quit her job to be a stay-at-home mom (Quintin is one of her five children) and to make sure Quintin got his midday dose. Consequently, the family lost her employer-based health care, and her husband Ron has since been working seven days a week to afford private health insurance.

For Quintin, the change presented a different challenge: For a boy in fourth grade, the only thing worse than having a seizure in class is having your mom show up to class.

“He already feels singled out because of his Tourette’s and his epilepsy,” Lovato says. “And then to have his mom show up at the school every day, when he’s at an impressionable age — it isn’t working.”

Rather than give the bullies any more ammunition, she decided to stop giving Quintin his midday dose altogether. If only the school nurse could give him his medication, Lovato thought, then Quintin could simply take it during a bathroom break or on his way to the cafeteria for lunch — the other kids would never have to know.

The Colorado Association of School Nurses, however, opposed the bill, concerned that nurses could lose their licenses for violating federal law. After all, cannabis remains a Schedule 1 narcotic at the federal level.

Legislators resolved the conflict by allowing both school districts and school nurses to opt out of administering medicinal cannabis to students, and extending permission to administer the medication to other school personnel (teachers, paras, etc.) willing to accept the responsibility.

Some parents of MMJ patients are worried some school districts may opt out of the law because of the politically sensitive nature of giving cannabis to minors, leaving their children no better off than before the bill passed.

For instance, Sarah Porter says even with Jack’s Law in effect, Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 still wouldn’t allow her to give her 12-year-old daughter Marley her cannabis medication on school grounds for fear they could lose their federal funding. Without her midday dose of cannabis medication, Marley’s Crohn’s disease eventually flared up, and she spent almost a week in the hospital last year. (D-8 officials were not able to confirm on short notice whether the district barred parents from administering cannabis drugs to their MMJ patient kids.)

Porter moved her family to Castle Rock last summer, and she now works only 10 minutes away from Marley’s school, which makes giving her medication during lunch a little easier, but she never told school administrators what type of medication Marley was taking for fear of their reaction.

Now that Quintin’s Amendment is on the books, Porter says she’s ready to tell the truth and she hopes Douglas County School District won’t respond the way Fountain-Fort Carson did.

“I hope they take the approach not of politics, but of humanity and empathy,” Porter says.

We reached out to several school districts in Colorado Springs to see where they stood on Quintin’s Amendment. Spokespersons for Colorado Springs School District 11 and Harrison School District 2 said they had not decided how to incorporate the new law but intend to have plans in place before the new school year begins in August. Academy School District 20 officials could not be reached by the Indy’s deadline.