IL: Suburban 6th-Grader Will Be Allowed To Use Medical Marijuana In School For Now

Photo Credit: Ted S. Warren

The Illinois attorney general’s office agreed in federal court Friday to give a Schaumburg-based school district permission to administer medical marijuana to an 11-year-old student to treat her for seizure disorders that resulted from chemotherapy treatments for leukemia.

Judge John Robert Blakey went along with that decision at a hearing held on a lawsuit filed by the parents of the girl, a 6th-grader at Hanover Highlands school in Hanover Park.

School district officials said they will administer cannabis to the student until they get further clarification from the attorney general. The court case was continued until next Friday.

An assistant attorney general told the court that his office would allow the school to administer the drug for the next week without fear of prosecution and until his office can figure out how to address the state law that prohibits possession or use of marijuana at school.

Parents Jim and Maureen Surin said after the hearing that they were relieved and excited by the ruling because marijuana has been so beneficial for their daughter Ashley. Since getting her state medical marijuana card the first week of December, Ashley has been wearing a patch on her foot and rubbing marijuana oil on her wrist.

It has reduced her seizures from one to three a day to just one in the past month, and has allowed her to wean off one of her more traditional prescription drugs. She can think more clearly, concentrate and speak longer sentences because she is taking the marijuana oil, her parents said.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday against School District 54 and the state of Illinois, could have far-reaching implications.

The suit claims that the state’s ban on taking the drug at school is unconstitutional because it denies the right to due process and violates the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ashley received treatments and a “substantial” amount of traditional medications to treat her seizures, but they were not successful, and the child’s treating physicians have certified her as being qualified to receive medical marijuana to treat her epilepsy, the suit stated.

The family asked officials in School District 54 to allow the girl to store and use cannabis on school grounds but were denied because of prohibitions in state law, according to the suit.

School officials, the attorney filing the lawsuit and national marijuana activists and opponents interviewed for this story did not know of any previous similar court case, meaning this lawsuit could set legal precedent.

The state medical cannabis law prohibits possessing or using marijuana on school grounds or buses, though a school may not prohibit a student from using medical marijuana at home.

District 54 Superintendent Andy DuRoss said Thursday officials there regularly work with parents to devise care plans to accommodate the needs of students with medical conditions but are prohibited by state law from allowing pot on school grounds.

He added that the district would comply with whatever is ordered by the courts.

Ashley has been attending school off and on depending on her condition but likely won’t be able to continue without her medication, which would be in conflict with a state law requiring children to go to school, said her attorney, Steve Glink.

Under her doctors’ recommendations, the girl wears a medical cannabis patch on her foot, which contains small amounts of THC, the component of marijuana that can make users high.

Occasionally, when the patch is insufficient to control her seizures, she uses cannabis oil drops with small amounts of THC on her tongue or wrists to regulate her epilepsy, the suit stated.

Ashley has an individualized education plan for intellectual impairments, and attends “mainstream” classes with a teacher’s aide, according to the suit.

The state’s medical cannabis program provides for qualified patients to take medical marijuana with immunity from state prosecution, despite a federal ban on the drug. However, the state law prohibits use at schools and dictates that school personnel are not required to be caregivers to administer cannabis, and are not immune from prosecution for possession or distribution of the drug.

The suit, filed in federal court in Chicago, asks for a preliminary injunction to allow a school employee to help the student store and consume medical cannabis on school property, on school buses and at school-related events in compliance with her doctor’s orders. Since taking medical marijuana, Ashley is calmer and more alert and better able to focus and learn, has fewer seizures and can take less of her traditional, debilitating medicine, a “night and day” difference from before, Glink said.

At least one other state has addressed the issue legislatively. In Colorado, where voters authorized medical marijuana in 2000, lawmakers let schools allow the drug for medical use, but no schools did so initially.

In 2016, in a bipartisan vote, lawmakers mandated that schools allow parents or caregivers to give qualified students medical marijuana. The measure was called Jack’s Law, for Jack Splitt, a 15-year-old with cerebral palsy who died that year, after the law was passed.

Officials of nursing organizations generally did not want nurses to administer the drug at schools, as they do with other medications, because they were worried about the federal law prohibiting marijuana possession, said the sponsor of the law, Colorado state Rep. Jonathan Springer, a Democrat. The law prohibits smoking the drug in school, but allows patches or tinctures, as long as it’s not disruptive to classrooms.

“We fundamentally believe your right to medication should never have to conflict with your right to an education,” Springer said.

He said two doctors must approve medical marijuana for kids under 18, so that medical professionals ultimately decide who qualifies, not lawmakers. Seizures and traditional medications can be so debilitating to children that marijuana’s side effects are far less dangerous, he said.

“There’s a reason parents are doing this,” he said, “It’s not to get their kids high. It’s to keep them alive and healthy.”