A loophole in Colorado law still allows school districts to deny cannabis medicine on their campuses.
Stories Leland Rucker
It’s one of those things that seems so easy but proves to be oh so difficult.
Benjamin Wann, 18, is a senior at Mountain Vista High School in Douglas County. Diagnosed with epilepsy, he is a registered medical-marijuana patient who uses a product made from hemp oil, morning and night, to help keep seizures at bay. He also likes to keep a nasal spray (CannatolRx Rescue) handy, to stop unexpected seizures. Call it insurance.
It’s that nasal spray that has made things difficult. CannatolRx Rescue contains a miniscule amount of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical associated with cannabis “elevation”), and it is the policy of the Douglas County School Board not to allow anything containing THC on school campuses.
It’s not that it’s illegal in the state. Colorado passed House Bill 1373 in early 2016, which allows a parent or designated caregiver to administer cannabis products to authorized patients on school premises. The bill was passed after a student named Jack Splitt, who used medical cannabis to curb his dystonia, and his mother, Stacey Linn, lobbied for the chance to allow Splitt, who died on Aug. 24, 2016, and other students like him to have access to their medicine at school. Splitt’s honesty and buoyant personality won the attention of lawmakers and everyone else at the Capitol, and the bill is commonly known as “Jack’s Law.”
“We got some attention from folks in the cannabis industry and also (then) Rep. Jonathan Singer,” Linn says. “We were able to get an amendment to the caregivers act, which was being introduced at the time, to allow medical cannabis to be administered to kids at schools. That was the first time in the country that happened.”
In June of 2018, legislators added an amendment, House Bill 1286, that allows school personnel and nurses to administer medical marijuana. But, like much state cannabis legislation, the bill allowed schools and districts to opt in or out. So far, only one of the 179 districts has incorporated the new law.
For its part, the Douglas County School District uses the federal definition of cannabis to disallow the THC nasal spray to be placed on its shelves—even for a just-in-case situation. And since the parents are the designated caregivers, and neither could get to the school to administer the drug in time to do any good should he have a sudden seizure, it leaves Benjamin and others like him without alternatives.
In October, school board president David Ray commended Benjamin and the family for their persistence on the issue—they have been attending meetings for more than a year—and said that the board would review the policy and put it on the November agenda. Before that meeting, the item was pulled at the behest of city attorneys, the board said, because it is dealing with another complaint filed against it concerning its cannabis policy. No date has been set for its return to the board’s agenda.
Benjamin will graduate in 2020, but the Wanns, along with the family of Marley Porter, a 14-year-old at Castle Rock Middle School who uses homemade cannabis capsules to help control her Crohn’s Disease, are not going to stop advocating for these rights in Douglas County.
The Wanns started the Green Crayon Campaign to bring awareness to the cause and pressure lawmakers to force districts to allow THC medicines to be on shelves and administered by school personnel and nurses.
They are also working with legislators to amend “Jack’s Law” during the 2020 session to force districts to obey state law as well as asking Governor Polis to sign an emergency executive order to allow medicine to be kept overnight and administered by school personnel. “The Green Crayon campaign stemmed out of needing a visual to catch the attention of our leaders and whoever we’re sending this campaign to,” says Benjamin’s mother, Amber Wann. “It started with sending notes and crayons to the superintendent of the school.”
It appears the issue will be decided by the legislature. “The governor understands the importance of access to medical cannabis for Coloradans who use these products to alleviate the symptoms of their health challenges,” a spokesperson from Polis emailed. “However, he cannot legislate or reverse legislation contemplated by the general assembly and will not act to overturn legislation through executive order. It is up to the legislature to take another look at Jack’s Law to determine how to encourage access for student patients who use medical cannabis.”
All this over keeping a state-legal bottle of medicine in a locked cabinet at a school with other medicines. School districts have too much power, Amber says. “We want to keep reminding people nationwide that we have to go to legislators and boldly demand mandatory laws.”