ENVER (AP) — Colorado schools would be forced to allow students to use medical cannabis under a bill that cleared its first hurdle Monday at the state Legislature.
The bill updates a new law that gives school districts the power to permit medical marijuana treatments for students under certain conditions. Patient advocates call the law useless because none of Colorado's 178 school districts currently allows such use.
"This is not about two kids smoking a joint between cars in a parking lot," said Jennie Stormes, mother of a teenage boy suspended from school last year for having yogurt mixed with cannabis pills to treat a disease that gives him seizures.
Colorado would be the second state after New Jersey to require schools to accommodate medical marijuana as long as it is in non-smokeable form and is administered by a nurse or caregiver.
Stacey Linn with her 15-year-old daughter
School officials testified against the requirement, saying marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Kathleen Sullivan, a lawyer for the Colorado Association of School Boards, said the requirement could endanger about $433 million in federal money that goes to Colorado public schools.
"This is a bill that asks you to gamble with local money," Sullivan said.
But dozens of parents packed a Monday hearing to say their children are unable to attend school because schools forbid marijuana treatments.
"They need to make reasonable accommodations so that children who need medical marijuana can go to school," said Stacey Linn, a Lakewood mother of a 15-year-old with cerebral palsy who is not allowed to wear a skin patch delivering a cannabis-derived treatment to school.
The bill passed 10-3 and now awaits a vote by the full House.
Medical marijuana has been legal in several states for two decades. But school districts and lawmakers nationwide are only now starting to grapple with thorny issues about student use of a drug still illegal under federal law. Colorado is one of three states where medical marijuana is legal that has any rules for use in schools, according to the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project.
The possibility of medical marijuana in schools raises a number of questions for school officials. The law currently says that the drug must be in non-smokeable form and is to be administered by a school nurse or a caregiver, likely a parent. But those school nurses are also required to report to authorities any child who is exposed to an illegal drug, including marijuana-derived treatments.
But lawmakers Monday were swayed by marijuana patients like Jack Splitt, a 15-year-old with cerebral palsy who says he can't attend school until schools are forced to allow his treatments.
"Say yes so I can go to school like every other kid," Splitt said.
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