As a growing number of states legalize marijuana use for medical purposes, schools are having to decide whether to allow students to take cannabis on campus as medication.
Thirty-seven states, three territories, and the District of Columbia allow the use of medical marijuana overall, and 17 states permit the prescription of cannabidiol to minors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But only 11 states—California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington—allow students to take medical marijuana during the school day as part of their treatment.
States differ on medical cannabis
The issue arose recently in Massachusetts, where the state legislature passed the cannabis reform bill at the end of this year’s session. The legislation includes a provision to conduct a study on the “possession, administration, and consumption of medical marijuana,” at public or private schools.
The act is awaiting Gov. Charles Baker’s approval and has provoked opinions for and against. The study would help inform officials whether or not to pass further legislation allowing students to take medical marijuana as part of their treatment in Massachusetts schools.
In California, a law approved in January 2020, called “Jojo’s Act,” which was named after a San Francisco teenager who suffered from epilepsy, allows parents and guardians to give medical marijuana to their children at public K-12 campuses, but prevents the “possession and administration of smokable or vapable” cannabis.
It is similar to laws in Illinois, Colorado, Maine, and New Jersey, which also only permit non-smokable cannabis on school grounds, provided it is administered by a parent, a guardian, or school nurse.
“In Colorado, the school nurses are [among those who are] supposed to administer the medical cannabis and students don’t need to leave the campus, [while] in California, I believe that the policies are up to individual school districts,” said Abbey Roudebush, the director of government affairs at Americans for Safe Access, a nonprofit that supports and advocates on behalf of medical cannabis patients.
She said most states have not passed laws about administering cannabis on school grounds, leaving the decision to individual schools and school districts.
That means “a burden really falls on the parents’ shoulders and on the children’s shoulders to have to fight to get approval for their medication, which is a hard fight,” Roudebush said.
Medical professionals weigh in
The American Academy of Pediatrics “opposes the use of ‘medical marijuana’ outside the regulatory process of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” according to its official policy statement.
In schools where medical marijuana is allowed, students should only take FDA-approved cannabis medication, provided they have a prescription and parental consent.
This point is underscored by others who work in school-based health.
“There are FDA-approved medications that should be processed as all school medications are in the school setting,” said Donna Mazyck, executive director of the National Association of School Nurses.
One of these medications is Epidiolex, used to treat seizures.
“The FDA approved Epidiolex, which is a form of the cannabidiol substance CBD used to treat seizures, and it has been approved for use in children, one year and older,” Mazyck said. “And the FDA has concluded that that particular drug product is safe and effective for use, and some school nurses see that medication prescribed for use in schools.”
But the AAP also warns that marijuana use can have a negative impact on developing brains, a sentiment echoed by The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. It says that adolescents are especially vulnerable to the ill effects of marijuana.
According to its official statement, there is growing evidence adolescents often access medical marijuana for recreation, and that with the increasing legalization of cannabis, teenagers are less likely to look at it as harmful and more likely to partake in it.
The AACAP has therefore encouraged more research weighing the risks and benefits of dispensing medical marijuana to adolescents.
However, the pediatricians’ group also acknowledged that medical pot could be an option for minors in life-threatening or debilitating situations, when “current therapies are inadequate.”
Published: August 11, 2022
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News