Pubdate: Thu, 11 Jan 2018
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2018 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Robert McCoppin


In a case that could have far-reaching implications, parents of an
elementary school student who has leukemia are suing a
Schaumburg-based school district and the state of Illinois for the
right for her to take medical marijuana at school.

Plaintiffs identified only as J.S. and M.S., parents of A.S., filed
suit Wednesday claiming that the state's ban on taking the drug at
school is unconstitutional because it denies the right to due process
and violates the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The student, who is 11 years old, was treated for her leukemia with
chemotherapy, which resulted in the child now suffering from seizure
disorders and epilepsy, according to the suit.

The girl received treatments and a "substantial" amount of traditional
medications to treat her seizures, but they were not successful, and
the child's treating physicians have certified her as being qualified
to receive medical marijuana to treat her epilepsy, the suit stated.

The family asked officials in School District 54 to allow the girl to
store and use cannabis on school grounds but were denied because of
prohibitions in state law, according to the suit.

School officials, the attorney filing the lawsuit and national
marijuana activists pro and con interviewed for this story did not
know of any previous similar court case, meaning this lawsuit could
set legal precedent.

The state medical cannabis law prohibits possessing or using marijuana
on school grounds or buses, though a school may not prohibit a student
from using medical marijuana at home.

District 54 Superintendent Andy DuRoss said officials there regularly
work with parents to devise care plans to accommodate the needs of
students with medical conditions but are prohibited by state law from
allowing pot on school grounds.

"We cannot legally grant the request," he said. "We're going to abide
by the law and do our best to support our students within the confines
of the law."

He added that the district will comply with whatever is ordered by the

The girl has been attending school off and on depending on her
condition but likely won't be able to continue without her medication,
which would be in conflict with a state law requiring children to go
to school, her attorney, Steve Glink, said.

Under her doctors' recommendations, the girl wears a medical cannabis
patch on her foot, which contains small amounts of THC, the component
of marijuana that can make users high.

Occasionally, when the patch is insufficient to control the girl's
seizures, she uses cannabis oil drops with small amounts of THC on her
tongue or wrists to regulate her epilepsy, the suit stated.

The student has an individualized education plan (IEP) for
intellectual impairments, and attends "mainstream" classes with a
teacher's aide, according to the suit.

The state's medical cannabis program provides for qualified patients
to take medical marijuana with immunity from state prosecution,
despite a federal ban on the drug. However, the state law prohibits
use at schools and dictates that school personnel are not required to
be caregivers to administer cannabis, and are not immune from
prosecution for possession or distribution of the drug.

The suit, filed in federal court in Chicago, asks for a preliminary
injunction to allow a school employee to help the student store and
consume medical cannabis on school property, on school buses and at
school-related events in compliance with her doctor's orders. Since
taking medical marijuana, the girl is calmer and more alert and better
able to focus and learn, has fewer seizures and can take less of her
traditional, debilitating medicine, a "night and day" difference from
before, Glink said.

A hearing has been set for the matter Friday in federal court.

At least one other state has addressed the issue legislatively. In
Colorado, where voters authorized medical marijuana in 2000, lawmakers
let schools allow the drug for medical use, but no schools did so initially.

In 2016, in a bipartisan vote, lawmakers mandated that schools allow
parents or caregivers to give qualified students medical marijuana.
The measure was called Jack's Law, for Jack Splitt, a 15-year-old with
cerebral palsy who died that year, after the law was passed.

Officials of nursing organizations generally did not want nurses to
administer the drug at schools, as they do with other medications,
because they were worried about the federal law prohibiting marijuana
possession, said the sponsor of the law, Colorado state Rep. Jonathan
Springer, a Democrat. The law prohibits smoking the drug in school,
but allows patches or tinctures, as long as it's not disruptive to

"We fundamentally believe your right to medication should never have
to conflict with your right to an education," Springer said.

He said two doctors must approve medical marijuana for kids under 18,
so that medical professionals ultimately decide who qualifies, not
lawmakers. Seizures and traditional medications can be so debilitating
to children that marijuana's side effects are far less dangerous, he

"There's a reason parents are doing this," he said, "It's not to get
their kids high. It's to keep them alive and healthy."
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