Meagan Holt’s daughter, Maddie, suffered life-threatening daily seizures until medical marijuana gave her relief. But as Maddie neared school age, her mom worried federal laws would prevent Maddie from taking cannabis at school.
Holt of Mill Creek reached out to state lawmakers for help. Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, has sponsored House Bill 1060, which would require schools to allow students to use medical cannabis at school, on school buses and at school-sponsored events.
“This bill gives parents and guardians the ability to give kids their medicine,” Blake said.
The proposal is meant to answer concerns that school districts could lose federal funding if they allow a drug that is federally illegal on their premises.
Rep. Shelly Short, chairwoman of the House Republican Caucus, suggests Washington follow the model of Colorado and New Jersey, which have authorized districts to give students access to medical cannabis. Colorado’s law requires districts to allow access but permits them to back out if they lose federal funding as a result of the policy. New Jersey makes the access optional.
Short said she thinks the state should ensure all students have equal access to education. She said students shouldn’t be pulled out of school early because of their medical conditions.
“It’s one thing if they are in half-day kindergarten,” said Short, R-Addy, “but it’s another thing when kids get to be in school all day.”
Holt said her 4-year-old daughter suffers from Zellweger syndrome, a congenital disorder. She once took more than 20 prescriptions, in part to deal with hourlong seizures. Then she tried medical marijuana.
“Upon taking the cannabis, she didn’t have a seizure for eight days,” she said. “Cannabis has given our child a quality of life we never thought she would have.”
Now, Maddie is on a diet of whole foods, vitamins and hyper-hydration. She is given cannabis oil through her feeding tube. Holt said Maddie is taking one anti-epileptic medication and they are working to wean her off two pain medications.
John Barclay of Aberdeen has a similar concern for his 7-year-old daughter, River. He takes her out of school at midday so she can take the cookie with cannabis oil that helps control her seizures.
“Three hours of school just isn’t enough,” Barclay said. “This legislation … gives the student the best chance at succeeding.”
At a hearing last week before the House Healthcare and Wellness Committee, representatives from school associations expressed concern about Blake’s bill.
Jessica Vavrus, the Washington State School Directors’ Association’s director of government relations, said her association could not support the bill in its current form because of contradictions with federal law.
“We can’t put our 295 school districts at risk of losing that funding,” Vavrus said.
Jerry Bender, the Association of Washington School Principals’ governmental relations director, pointed to parts of the bill allowing parents and caregivers to administer the medicine in school. The laws in Colorado and New Jersey have similar provisions.
Bender said marijuana is a controlled substance and should only be administered by the school nurse or at home, as with other prescribed medications.
Committee members said asking school personnel to dispense marijuana could be inviting trouble.
“I am shocked that you want school nurses to do this,” said Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, chairwoman of the committee. “We can’t require the nurse to administer something that is … questionably legal.”
Forrest Holt: 360-943-7123, @forrest_holt