Medical marijuana pushes boundaries in school district policies

As parents increasingly turn to marijuana to treat children with chronic health conditions and severe maladies such as seizures, school district administrators have had to establish rules for the drug’s use on school grounds.

Most state laws have prohibited use of marijuana on or near school property, but that has changed in recent years thanks to mainstream efforts to legalize marijuana use among adults and children, both for recreational and therapeutic purposes.

In 1996, California became the first state to pass a medical marijuana law for minors and is currently debating whether to allow parents to administer medical marijuana to their children at school.

Colorado, New Jersey and Maine have adopted standards for the administration of medical marijuana on school property, says Tom Keily, a policy researcher for the Education Commission of the States.

SIDEBAR: Policy considerations

Illinois recently approved the drug for children under 18 who have seizures.

In these states, only a student with a doctor’s prescription or registered healthcare card can use medical marijuana products.

State regulations also restrict any products that a student must smoke or vape, but do allow oral and topical versions for children, Keily says.

Finding guidance

When the Maine Legislature passed medical marijuana use guidelines for students in 2016, district leaders followed suit by crafting their own rules.

“I can understand why legalizing marijuana can present some potential problems for school districts” says Maria Libby, superintendent of Five Town Central School District in Camden.

“Schools are constantly having these places where conflicts arise between the standards and expectations in a school when they are much different than those within the state, the nation or even the family unit.”

Five Town’s policy prohibits students with prescriptions from possessing the drug. A primary caregiver can administer it in a “nonsmokable” form in the school administrator’s office. Once a parent gives a dose, they are required to take the rest home.

To develop a policy, Five Town officials looked to the Maine School Management Association, an umbrella organization for the Maine School Superintendents Association and the Maine School Boards Association.

“We take the model guidance and we make sure we’ve included what’s required by law, but we often try to change the language or we might add something to go further” Libby says.

For instance, Five Town officials altered the model policy to stipulate that students with prescriptions be treated only in the school administrator’s office, though the model policy also mentions provisions in the state law that allow treatment to occur on school buses and other areas of school property.

Refining policy

Revisions to a model policy should consider any factors that might be specific to the district or region, Libby says. “There are times when school districts might have certain issues that arise because of their community or culture” she says.

For example, the presence of local marijuana dispensaries means students potentially have greater access to the drug and this may warrant stricter policies to prevent misuse.

The Five Town policy has not yet been put to the test, but Libby is willing to make additional changes.

“If we found that we had issues, we would go back to our policy and find ways that might help us maintain a healthy learning environment in our schools” says Libby.

To see a sample medical marijuana policy from the Maine School Management Association, visit

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