Summit School District works toward medical marijuana policy
September 27, 2016
Summit's Board of Education is in the process of making the district one of the first in Colorado to permit use of medical marijuana on school grounds in accordance with a new state law that took effect this summer.
The Summit School District's seven-member board met this past Thursday night, Sept. 22, and threw early and unanimous support behind the recently developed policy granting qualified students the ability to receive doses of cannabis from a designated primary caregiver while on campus. The policy was endorsed by the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) and vetted by law firm Lyons Gaddis, and a final vote approving the proposed strategy is expected to take place at the Summit board's Oct. 6 regular evening meeting.
"Summit School District isn't afraid of taking on new issues, new laws, new topics that are impacting public education," said Julie McCluskie, spokeswoman for the district. "The fact that we are responsive in looking at what is best practice, what is recommended by CASB and now implementing a policy as one of the first in the state, I think we take pride in that."
The new policy expressly defines several key aspects, including who is eligible, who may be a primary caregiver, as well as what constitutes an allowable form of medical marijuana. Designated locations are listed as school grounds, on a school bus or at a school-sponsored event in Colorado, though another stipulation notes the policy does not apply if any of the three are located on federal property. In addition, if the feds ultimately indicate that funds they provide to the district could be jeopardized from the new plan, the policy will immediately be suspended.
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1373, better known as "Jack's Law," on June 6 requiring that schools allow the administering of medical marijuana on school property to individuals prescribed it based on a set of conditions. The law allowed each district to come up with guidelines directing where treatments can be given and what specific types of non-smokable marijuana can be dispensed. If a district opts not to issue a formal policy, caregivers — most often parents or guardians — technically possess carte blanche on where on site they supply the drug.
The law, carried as a bill by Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, is named for Jack Splitt, a 15-year-old student at Wheat Ridge High School in the Jefferson County School District who suffered from crippling muscle spasms from his cerebral palsy. Before dying on Aug. 24 of this year, just a week into his freshman year of high school, Splitt used a cannabis-based skin patch and low-THC oil as treatment.
Splitt and his mother, Stacey Linn, became the face of a prior 2015 law, also carried by Singer, that allowed Colorado's schools to create policies authorizing student medical marijuana use. When none of the state's 179 districts acted on the first-of-its-kind law nationwide, though, Singer and Linn went back to work on behalf of her then-14-year-old son who was attending Everitt Middle School at the time. Jack's Law was the result, and Colorado's General Assembly resoundingly passed it during the most recent legislative session, by a vote of 56-9 in the House before receiving unanimous approval from the Senate, 35-0.
To the best knowledge of Joe Watt, communications director of CASB, three school districts have sanctioned such a policy to date: Falcon in eastern Colorado Springs, Douglas County, and then Jefferson. Notably Denver Public Schools has been outspoken that it will not create a policy, citing use of marijuana as a violation of federal law, even for medical purposes. As many as a dozen other districts, including Steamboat Springs and Meeker, are at various planning stages, and Summit's action would make it the fourth.
But the decision doesn't come without any number of challenges. Being so fresh, questions remain over whether the policy covers only students who receive a set prescription and dosage for illnesses such as epilepsy, seizures and cerebral palsy, or would also apply to those adolescents of age who acquire a medicinal marijuana card for other ailments per pre-existing state law.
"I'm sure boards are trying to wrestle with what this law means," said Watt. "I don't know what to say if the child is 18 and the policy says that it's being provided by a caregiver, because it is possible for an 18-year-old to possess a license and self-administer."
Summit superintendent of schools Kerry Buhler said that the district's new policy is not intended to extend to those individuals who do not necessarily represent the definition of a "qualified student" and would procure themselves a license. Instead, Summit is choosing to implement the official approach to afford students and their caregivers the right to make their own medical decisions. Since the law passed, Summit has not received a request for such medical marijuana administration.
"We are doing this to try and be proactive in case it does come up," said Buhler. "This is in alignment with our values as a district and respects what families chose for care, providing them the ability to exercise that choice, but in a way that we can control. It fits with our parameters with school safety, and we want to make sure that we handle this reasonably and responsibly."