By Patty Nieberg, The Associated Press/Report for America
Colorado families pleaded with state lawmakers on Wednesday to pass a bill to expand cannabis-based medicine at school.
Under the current law, school districts must permit parents and guardians to possess and administer cannabis-based medicine on school grounds. A bill in the Colorado Legislature would remove the discretion from principals and instead require school boards to implement policies that allow for possession and administration of cannabis-based medicine by school personnel.
The bill would also protect school personnel from retaliation.
Many parents grew emotional at a Senate Education Committee hearing as they explained the difficulties their children face trying to take their medicinal cannabis doses while in school. Some parents told the committee they have to leave work in order to deliver medicine to their children. Other families have had students continue learning remotely because it’s easier to access their medicine at home.
Parents like Mark Porter shared how they uprooted their families from other states to move to Colorado in order to get cannabis-based treatments for their children with complicated medical issues. For his daughter Sarah, who suffers from Crohn’s disease, the Porters have seen great progress with cannabis-based medicine.
But suburban Douglas County, where Sarah attends high school, has chosen to not update its policy despite the family’s pleas, Porter said. For that reason, Sarah has had to continue learning remotely.
“Do we just discretely send it with them and hope they do not get caught?” Porter said. “We shouldn’t have to. There’s nothing my child is doing that is wrong.”
Benjamin Wann, another student in Douglas county with epilepsy who takes a cannabis-based medication, also testified in front of lawmakers, using an audio clip of a story about a burning man telling a blind man to throw water on him but the blind man refuses because he’ll get wet.
“I’m the burning man. All of you are the blind man. I’m telling you why I’m scared and why I’m emotional. I’m begging you to throw the water but you’re not hearing what I’m saying,” the audio clip said.
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The debate surrounding policy for cannabis-based medicines in school has gone on for several years in Colorado. In 2016, “Jack’s Law” gave Colorado school districts the ability to write policies for where students can take their medicine and what forms of cannabis can be administered.
Then in 2018, “Quintin’s Amendment,” named after Quinton Lovato, a 9-year-old boy with epilepsy, allowed for school officials to administer medical marijuana to students.
“The system we have is already in place and my son is living proof,” said Hannah Lovato, Quintin’s mother, who also testified on Wednesday.
Lovato begged lawmakers to protect the needs of students like her son with other complex medical conditions in school districts that have not adopted the policy.
“Because Quintin’s amendment was passed as a permissible law, we are allowing school districts to pick and choose who receives their life-saving medication and who could potentially die,” Lovato said. “Why is my son more important than the Wanns? Why is my son more important than the Porters?”
The bill passed the seven-member committee unanimously. It goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee for a similar review.
Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.