Medical Marijuana – and Schools

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The Colorado Legislature is set to debate a bill that would authorize the use of medical marijuana in elementary and high schools in the state. While far from certain that the bill will pass or that other states will follow suit, it is vitally important that schools and school districts consider the implications of such a law.

The logic behind the Colorado bill is that school children are currently allowed to take medications at school – under a specific set of rules. The medicines must be prescribed and they cannot be self-administered. The student must take the medications under the supervision of an authorized school official (frequently, the school nurse or the school nurse’s aide or assistant). The currently permitted medications include psychotropic drugs such as Ritalin, and the bill proposes to treat medical marijuana in the same manner.

The purpose of this article is not to discuss whether or not such a law should be passed, but to outline an approach for schools to prepare for the passage of such a law.marijuana

Marijuana, while legal in the District of Columbia and the states of Colorado and Washington, remains illegal under federal law. As a result, there is none of the regulating structure surrounding medical marijuana that governs the sale and use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, which fall under the aegis of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  

The absence of such a regulating structure may place schools in a very risky position, and the schools need to consider that risk before they are subject to it. The Firestorm PREDICT.PLAN.PERFORM.® approach is an excellent way to address the risks that may be associated with the use of medical marijuana in schools.

PREDICT
Schools must establish the likelihood that they will be confronted with a medical marijuana situation. This likelihood is a conditional probability:

  • What is the probability that their state will legalize medical marijuana for use in schools?
  • Given that the state legalizes medical marijuana in schools, what is the probability that a student will be prescribed medical marijuana?
  • What would the impact be of a student or students using medical marijuana while at school? This impact may be dependent on the method of administration. Medical marijuana can be administered in a number of different manners, including inhalation as a vapor, inhaled via smoking or ingested orally. These different methods of administration will have different effects on the student and may need to be considered by the school.
  • Schools need to understand whether or not they have any authority under their state laws to limit at-school medications.
  • Schools need to review their policies on student medication. All medications, unless otherwise permitted by state law, must be treated in a consistent manner.
  • Schools need to understand and estimate the likelihood for abuse of medical marijuana. Could prescriptions be forged? Could prescriptions be fraudulently obtained?
  • Schools should have a thorough understanding of the non-medical regulation of marijuana. Since medical marijuana is not governed under the aegis of the FDA, nor is it subject to the same environmental regulations as other foods and drugs, marijuana may be contaminated with pesticides or other toxic substances. State and local regulations must be reviewed and accommodated in school policies and plans.
  • Based on comprehensive research and a thorough understanding of marijuana and state and local laws and regulations, schools must develop a comprehensive policy for the administering of medication (prescription and over-the-counter) on school grounds.

PLAN

  • Schools must develop comprehensive and actionable plans to control and administer medical marijuana for their students.
  • These plans must address both the legitimate use of prescribed medical marijuana and for the potential fraudulent use of marijuana.
  • These plans must include specific actions, define roles and responsibilities and articulate a process for approving at-school medication.
  • School administration, faculty and staff must become thoroughly familiar with the school policies and plans.

PERFORM

  • School administration, faculty and staff must be trained on the school medication plans. This training should be repeated annually.
  • Schools should conduct tabletop exercises for responding to requests for a student to use medical marijuana (and other prescription and over-the-counter drugs) on a regular basis. These exercises will familiarize school employees with the procedures and identify any areas for process improvements.
  • Schools should review and update their policies and plans annually to accommodate any changes in the legal and regulatory environment.

As always, the key to minimizing risk and responding to non-routine events is to PREDICT.PLAN.PERFORM.®

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