DENVER – State lawmakers Monday advanced legislation that would allow students to use medical marijuana at school.
The legislation passed the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee by a vote of 10-3. It now heads to the full House for debate.
The bill follows a measure last year that allowed districts to create policies around medical marijuana. But the bill did not require districts to allow use on campus.
In the past year, some school systems – including Durango School District 9-R – have continued to require that students leave school grounds to administer medical marijuana, which affects about 300 students statewide.
Only one of Colorado’s 178 school districts, Falcon School District 49 in El Paso County, has begun the process of enacting a policy.
“Kids shouldn’t have to choose between their medicine and going to school,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont.
Instead of requiring schools to enact policies, the bill was amended Monday to state that if a district does not enact a policy allowing medical marijuana on school grounds, then a parent or caregiver would be allowed to come to the school to administer the medication.
Jack Splitt, a 15 year old who suffers from spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy and dystonia, along with his mother, Stacey Linn, testified that Wheat Ridge High School denied him the ability to bring his medication to school, despite the new law.
“Please, don’t let me down,” Splitt told lawmakers, using a voice box to speak. “Say ‘yes’ to me and to all of the kids who need cannabis ... Say ‘yes’ so I can go to school like every other kid. I shouldn’t be punished because my body is like this and needs a plant to fix it.”
Splitt’s condition is so severe that his body becomes twisted, sometimes causing him to choke. Certain strains of cannabis, which are low in psychoactive properties but high in several healing qualities, have allowed him to regain some normalcy. In terms of seizures, some have called medical marijuana a “miracle” for children.
The legislation last year was called the “Jack Amendment,” named for Splitt, after his medication was confiscated by a Jefferson County school.
School boards opposed the bill presented Monday, largely objecting to a mandate rather than giving districts time to implement policies.
“We have policies in place around administering medical needs to students, so we felt that was sufficient enough,” said Julie Popp, spokeswoman for Durango School District 9-R, who added that it takes time to craft policy.
Some districts point out that marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, which raises concerns about losing funding.
“By mandating that school boards get ahead of federal law, this is a bill that asks you to gamble with local money,” said Kathleen Sullivan, an attorney for the Colorado Association of School Boards. “If school boards are going to be mandated to enact this policy ... then protect them from losing federal funds.”
Southwest Colorado lawmakers opposed the bill, including Republican Reps. J. Paul Brown of Ignacio and Don Coram of Montrose. But both lawmakers said they are considering the bill, and that it’s possible they will support it when the full House votes.
Singer underscored that school boards have happily accepted state money from marijuana revenue, despite it being illegal federally.
“I’m always curious as to whether the schools are concerned about state-sanctioned money laundering since schools have not opposed ... dollars,” Singer said.
Sullivan responded: “The federal money-laundering charge is not one that I had considered.”
Supporters of the effort point out that students are allowed to be in possession of a long list of other controlled psychotropic substances, including Ritalin.
Unlike those drugs, medical marijuana for children comes with stringent requirements, including two physician recommendations and approval from the state health department.
Several other states have required schools to create policies allowing medical marijuana, including New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie – one of the loudest opponents to marijuana legalization – signed the bill.
“We’re not blazing any new ground here,” Singer said. “We’re just saying you can’t discriminate against kids because of their medical status.”