Council member David Grosso (I-At Large), who chairs the education committee, said he introduced the emergency legislation to ensure families are not forced to choose between receiving medical treatment and sending their children to school.
“Due to the continued federal criminalization of marijuana, the mayor’s agencies have taken a fairly restrictive approach to medical marijuana out of fear of having the federal government come down hard on our patients, doctors and medical marijuana businesses,” Grosso said when he introduced the bill Tuesday.
“With the cautious approach, we have often made life harder for those who need treatment,” Grosso said.
The D.C. Health Department has said that medical marijuana could be administered in residences or medical treatment facilities, but it did not specify that schools are acceptable facilities.
The policy does not prohibit schools from administering medical marijuana to licensed students. School nurses and staff often administer prescription medication to children and that can include medical marijuana.
Confusion on the policy emerged last month after the mother of a sixth-grader with epilepsy said her daughter’s charter school prohibited her from having medical marijuana on campus. The child did not have a medical marijuana license, and schools are unable to store or administer medical marijuana to children unless they have licenses.
Dawn Lee-Carty said her daughter, Zoey, takes cannabis products every morning and night to prevent seizures. She said Zoey, who had up to 65 seizures a day before medicinal marijuana, rarely uses the products during the school day. Lee-Carty said she wants Zoey to have access to her cannabis medicine, and not pharmaceutical drugs, in case she does suffer from a seizure.
Zoey had a seizure the first week of school, and Lee-Carty said the school did not accommodate her child’s medical needs, so Zoey did not attend school for a few days while they sorted out her treatment plan with the school.
She said a previous school followed a different protocol for Zoey, adding to the confusion.
Lee-Carty said Zoey has doctors’ notes prescribing her medical marijuana and is in the process of obtaining a license.
The products the child uses contain very little THC, which is the psychoactive found in marijuana, and are administered to Zoey through oils and an inhaler, according to Lee-Carty.
After the episode with the school, Lee-Carty lobbied city officials to clarify the law. She calls the passage of the emergency legislation a victory for Zoey and other children who rely on medical marijuana.
“There’s no more secrets; we’re not in deep hiding. Even though we had doctors’ notes, we protested on Capitol Hill, I knew it would still be taboo to talk about it at school,” Lee-Carty said. “It was an injustice for Zoey.”
D.C. Public Schools, which educates more than half of the city’s public-school students, voluntarily clarified its policy last week, saying health administrators would administer the medicine to students.
The D.C. Council legislation was passed on an emergency basis, which means it immediately went into effect. Unlike most D.C. laws, it did not require congressional review. Emergency legislation expires in 90 days, and if the council wants to make the bill permanent, it will need to pass standard legislation.
Twelve of the city’s 13 council members voted in favor of the bill. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) voted “present,” neither approving nor rejecting the legislation.