Public schools in Washington state would be required to develop plans if a parent asked that their child be given marijuana to treat illnesses during the school day, under a bill still alive in the state Legislature.
State Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, introduced the bill for a third time this session to address concerns raised by a constituent whose daughter has to leave class to take a supplement that she says helps treat seizures. The law is limited to smokeless forms of the drug and would require the child to be enrolled in the state’s database of approved users of medicinal marijuana, which requires physician approval.
“We want to give the school system, the K-12 system, some comfort because they said they were stuck between a rock and a hard place,” said Blake, whose bill passed through the House of Representatives on a 77-19 vote Tuesday.
Bill supporters say the legislation is necessary to keep students who receive cannabidiol, or CBD, treatments in class and on campus to avoid interruptions to their school day. The bill would allow parents to meet their children at school, on a bus or at any other school-sponsored event and administer the drug in private.
State school officials have asked that the legislation include a contingency plan in case federal authorities threaten to withhold funding because of the measure. Marijuana and almost all CBD products remain illegal under federal law, though the Food and Drug Administration approved one anti-seizure medication last year made from extracts. CBD is a different compound than tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive element in marijuana, and does not produce the same “high” that is sought by recreational users.
Wednesday was the cutoff for legislation to pass one of the Legislature’s chambers in order to be considered in this legislative session, which is scheduled to conclude at the end of April. It is the third time the Senate has received the bill, but a full vote of the chamber did not occur in 2017 or last year.
“I think there was some objections in the Republican caucus about the word marijuana in the title,” Blake said. “I think it freaked people out.”
The law that merged the state’s legal recreational and medical marijuana markets in 2015 permitted school districts throughout the state to work with parents who wanted their child to receive marijuana concentrates on school grounds, but didn’t require it. The new law would force school districts to adopt a policy should a parent request accommodations.
Spokane Public Schools’ current policy on medications requires a form signed by the parent or guardian and a licensed physician for any type of drug, whether it’s over-the-counter medicine or a prescription. Some allowances are made for students to carry their own medicines, including those treating diabetes and asthma, but officials prefer the medicine be administered by trained staff.
Because of its illegal status under federal law, those procedures don’t apply to medical marijuana, said Brian Coddington, a spokesman for the district.
“Medical marijuana remains a federally controlled substance and is treated differently due to the conflict between state and federal law,” Coddington wrote in an email. “SPS is following state and federal guidance that accepting federal funding requires maintaining a drug-free workplace and educational environment, which precludes the use of federally controlled substances on school campuses.”
If the law passes, that policy would have to change if a parent requested access for their child. But the bill requires any marijuana concentrate drug to be administered by the parent, not an employee of the school district, in an effort to protect school staff from any federal liability, Blake said.
The law includes a section that would initiate an automatic review of the program should the federal government inform the state its funding would be in jeopardy for allowing the drug to be administered in schools. According to the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction in Washington, about 7 percent of public school costs are covered by federal funding.
“The bill wouldn’t require the feds to actively take action against us,” said Dierk Meierbachtol, chief legal officer for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Any type of communication from the federal government would trigger a review by the Washington Attorney General’s Office, which would issue a written opinion that would determine whether public schools could continue to allow the drug to be administered.
The provision would likely be a precautionary measure. A 2016 report from the Education Commission of the States found three other states besides Washington have laws that allow consumption of medical marijuana on public school campuses, and Meierbachtol said his office was unaware of any action by federal authorities to shut off public funding to those states.
Blake said he was hopeful his legislation would pass this session, with several weeks to go and a likely hearing before the Senate’s Early Learning and K-12 Education committee later this month.
“I think we’ll have time to work the bill,” Blake said. “I’m feeling good that we can get this through.”
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