March 5, 2021
When school boards refused to let willing teachers give their daughter Marley her cannabis-derived medicine, Sarah and Mark Porter made the difficult decision to pull Marley out of a Douglas County public school in October 2019.
“The last time she got out of the hospital, she never went back to school,” Mark Porter told Newsline.
In the 18 months since then, Marley has been able to take her prescribed medication regularly while studying at home. This kept her Crohn’s disease more manageable than ever, her parents testified to Colorado lawmakers during a February 24th Senate Education Committee hearing.
But Marley, now 15, misses out on one-on-one interaction with teachers and the social aspects of the school like the drama club.
“School is so much more than just learning and just education,” said her father. “No friends, no after-school activities. Nothing.”
A bill from Colorado, under legislative scrutiny, aims to make life easier for children like Marley and their families. It would require schools and school districts to have a policy allowing their staff – like the high school teacher willing to go to Marley Middle School if the school board allowed – to use medical cannabis from a student Was recommended to store and administer doctor.
Parker Republican Chris Holbert said Senate draft 21-56 is more important to him than any other piece of legislation he’s sponsoring for this session. The education committee’s eleven legislators unanimously approved the bill on February 24 and sent it to the budget committee for review at a date yet to be determined.
“As a person from a community that is pretty consistently against marijuana legalization in Colorado, I am ready to raise my hand and say I was wrong about cannabis-based medicine,” said Douglas County’s Holbert partnered with Senator Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat, on SB-56. “I am perfectly ready to have conversations with voters and doubters and say, ‘You are wrong. You have to meet these people.'”
Holbert’s change of heart came after meeting voters Amber and Brad Wann, who figured out a way to treat their son Ben’s life-threatening seizures: a bottle of Charlotte’s Web cannabidiol, or CBD.
The science of CBD is nascent and touted for many benefits that research is not yet required to provide verification. However, some recent studies support claims that it may be particularly effective in treating certain epilepsy syndromes. “Recently, CBD has gained prominence in the scientific community for its ability to treat multiple conditions,” Insider reported in November.
The cannabinoid molecule, CBD, is found in the marijuana plant, but it doesn’t make a person “high”. Only one cannabinoid – out of more than 100 cannabinoids in cannabis, marijuana, or hemp – is known to have psychoactive effects: delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
When a school nurse asked Amber Wann why Ben stopped having seizures in 2014 and found out about cannabis-derived medicine, she told Wanns about a potential risk to the child, Holbert said.
“The sheriff and the (district attorney) and school district and child protection services did what they had to do and in the end they found, no, no … giving your son Ben CBD oil didn’t put him at risk and brought him with his seizures to the end certainly not endangered him, “said Holbert to the education committee.
After the investigation was completed, the principal allowed the Wanns to keep a cannabis-based nasal spray on campus to treat Ben’s seizures. When the Douglas County School District School Board learned about this, they had to be removed from the school.
“It annoys me that my school board would somehow … decide which child lived in our school district and which died,” said Holbert.
SB-56 builds on other laws that should help families like the Wanns.
A 2016 state law – known as “Jack’s Law” after Jack Splitt, the child who inspired it – required school districts to have parents or guardians administer medicinal cannabis to their children on campus to treat symptoms such as seizures and severe pain. No law in Colorado has ever allowed children to smoke marijuana on campus. Medicines containing CBD, THC, or both often come in the form of oils, nasal sprays, or capsules. And students are not legally allowed to keep the drug with them even if they have a prescription.
“I hated cannabis,” Jack’s mother, Stacey Linn, testified before the committee on February 24th. “But when your child almost dies, several times a month, sometimes several times a day, sometimes several times a week, what you do is surprising.” could do. “She was referring to Jack’s seizures.
“Giving Jack access to cannabis saved his life and allowed him to go to school,” Linn said.
Jack, a 15-year-old with cerebral palsy, died in August 2016. But his legacy lives on.
Jack’s law allowed students like Ben Wann to get his medicine on school grounds.
However, it did not require school nurses and staff to administer the medicine to the students as they would with medicines. Because many children need multiple doses a day to keep their symptoms under control, traveling to school and giving their children medication has been a difficult task for working mothers and fathers.
“Imagine having to walk from work an hour or more at the same time every day to get to school for your child to have their medicine,” Sarah Porter said during the hearing.
In 2018, House Bill 18-1286 became law in Colorado. Nicknamed the “Quintin’s Amendment” after the then 9-year-old Quintin Lovato, the bill allowed school nurses to administer medical cannabis in school for qualified illnesses and with medical approval. However, the law left an “opt-out” clause for districts that did not want their employees to give the medicine to children.
After the bill was passed, Quintin’s Clear Creek County School District allowed him to receive his medicine in school, which put him in control of his seizures and tics.
Quintin and his mother, Hannah Lovato, reappeared at the Capitol three years after the HB-1286 passage to testify in support of SB-56. Quintin informed the legislature about his academic and athletic achievements.
“Please help get this new bill through so that other children like me have the opportunity to live their best lives,” Quintin told committee members on February 24th.
The bill wouldn’t force school staff to administer the drug when they are uncomfortable, but it does require school districts to have a policy for storing cannabis-based drugs on campus. The policy must allow a willing school nurse, teacher, or staff member to administer the medicine to a student who will provide medical advice and dosage instructions.
In addition, SB-56 protects school staff from discipline when deciding to administer a student’s cannabis. They cannot have their government-issued licenses or certificates taken away.
“It is largely based on a Good Samaritan perspective,” Holbert said in an interview. “If you help, you are protected, and if you don’t want to help, you are protected.”
The bill would increase government spending by around $ 15,000, according to the tax bill. That money would be allocated to the Colorado Department of Education to help fund rule creation and enforcement.
School districts could pay up to $ 4,200 per school for storage, staff training, and staff time, but the actual cost will “depend, among other things, on current district policies, associated resources, and the number of students with medical marijuana recommendations,” the tax return said of the bill.
The bill includes an exception for school districts that can show they run the risk of losing federal funds if they administer cannabis to a student. In these cases, they could refuse to store cannabis on campus.
But that never happened under the last two presidential administrations, Holbert said, and it’s unlikely to happen under current President Joe Biden, despite the fact that cannabis is classified as a List I narcotic under federal law.
“Anyone who is worried and unfamiliar with it takes the time to try and connect with people in your community who are in need of cannabis-based medicine – especially children,” said Holbert. “And what you will find is that besides miraculous things, something is happening, and completely potent medicines can be made from cannabis plants.”
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