Medical pot poses policy issues for schools | Local News


Missouri schools are approaching uncharted territory with the rise of CBD products and the legalization of medical marijuana, leaving many district officials questioning how they should move forward with their student drug policies.

Stores across the country are selling cannabidiol, or CBD, products as more studies reveal its medical benefits to treat conditions such as seizures and anxiety. Cannabidiol is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in the hemp plant. Unlike its counterpart THC, the main compound found in marijuana, cannabidiol doesn’t cause the user to feel “high.”

Several area school districts base policies on recommendations from the Missouri School Boards’ Association, while others may establish their own regulations. It’s not a requirement for schools to follow MSBA standards, and a district is well within its rights to establish its own policies.

At least one area school district, Carl Junction, has modified its student drug policy to include a clause on hemp, particularly hemp oil such as CBD.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has been assigned to create regulations governing the cultivation, manufacture, dispensing and sale of marijuana in the state.

Kelli Hopkins, associate executive director of the MSBA, said the association is formulating recommendations for medical marijuana policies and will release them in the next few weeks.

“Our basic position is that we will not be allowing the possession or use of medical marijuana because it’s still illegal under federal law,” Hopkins said. “That just won’t happen on school grounds.”

Joplin and Webb City school superintendents said they’ll both be waiting to hear from the MSBA before moving forward with a policy on medical cannabis.

Anthony Rossetti, superintendent at Webb City, said because medical marijuana is so new in the state, his district officials will be updating their policies based on recommendations from the MSBA. The school’s current student drug policy prohibits the use of tobacco, alcohol, drugs, narcotics or hallucinating agents.

“We have not made any types of decisions regarding the use or participation of medical marijuana,” Rossetti said. “This will be fertile soil for us to take a look at.”

Melinda Moss, superintendent in Joplin, said her district too is relying on guidance from the MSBA in forming policy. Joplin’s drug-abuse policy prohibits marijuana, as it’s listed under federal law as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act. The state association, she said, “has specially trained staff attorneys who filter through the legislation as well as the rules and regulations that follow,” Moss said. “In order to be sure that we’re compliant in what we do, we do lean heavily on the Missouri School Boards’ Association.”

The Carl Junction Board of Education recently made clarifications prohibiting all forms of hemp oil, including CBD oil.

Trace amounts of THC can be found in CBD products, which may sometimes result in a false positive on a drug test. Carl Junction officials said the students who use CBD will face the same penalties, regardless of whether the product is being used medically or if it’s approved by parents. The policy was revised earlier this month after school officials heard of several students using CBD oils.

“Because of this, we wanted to make sure we got ahead of the situation,” said Jesse Wall, assistant principal and athletic/activities director. “We’re trying to make sure we communicate with our community, our students and our parents to make sure that they were aware of that if the student tested positive for THC, no matter what the origins of those THC were, it would be deemed as a positive test, and they’re subject to the consequences.”

There are three levels of offenses at Carl Junction for students who fail a drug test. The first offense is a nine-week suspension from all activities including athletic practice. The second offense is a 52-week suspension, and the third penalty is a suspension from participating in any activities at school for the remainder of the student’s high school career. Wall emphasized that the drug testing program is meant to be helpful, not harmful, to kids and their families.

“It’s not about trying to be a detriment to any kid or any individual,” he said. “It’s about trying to help them and give them a reason to say no to anything that would be considered illegal.”

Legality

Voters approved the amendment for medical marijuana legalization in November, and state laws and regulations are still being crafted.

Even though medical cannabis is legal in Missouri, the Missouri School Boards’ Association has to continue to abide by federal laws, which view marijuana as illegal.

CBD’s legality is where it gets confusing, Hopkins said. The legal definition of hemp and what products can be created from it have changed. The Missouri Legislature passed House Bill 2238 in 2014, which brought changes to state CBD laws.

The Missouri Hemp Extract Registration Program created under HB 2238 gives qualified patients the legal right to access, possess and use “hemp extracts” for certain medical conditions. In the bill, “hemp extract” is defined as a mixture or preparation of the cannabis plant that contains at least 0.5 percent CBD and no more than 0.3 percent THC. Only individuals with a seizure disorder or those who have a neurologist’s referral are eligible for a “hemp registration card” that gives the user legal protections. Minors or parents may be issued cards under certain circumstances.

Hopkins said students who are younger than 18 and aren’t registered card holders aren’t lawfully allowed to use CBD products. Many of the CBD oils sold in stores may be unregulated or unlicensed, she said.

“In Missouri, even though the drug is completely legal, it’s technically illegal for anyone else to possess it other than someone with one of these cards from the Department of Health and Senior Services,” Hopkins said. “It’s the same CBD you can buy in the store right now, less than 0.3 THC, but you had to apply for a registration card and that law is still on the books. We’re assuming that this year’s legislative session will repeal this previous law, since it’s no longer needed.”

Advocacy group

New Approach Missouri is a medical marijuana advocacy group that helped pass Amendment 2 in November, legalizing medicinal cannabis in the state. Amendment 2 allows patients with conditions such as HIV, cancer and epilepsy to access the drug.

Now that the measure passed, John Payne, campaign manager for New Approach Missouri, said the goal is to continue educating people on medical cannabis and what the program will be like. He’s been meeting with state stakeholders, as well as the Department of Health and Senior Services, to stay engaged on regulations.

“I think we’ll have to wait and see what the draft regulations look like, but I think the process that they’ve had so far has been great,” Payne said. “I think they’re committed to implementing the amendment as it was intended to make sure Missouri patients have access to medical marijuana.”

Payne said with the conflicting state and federal laws surrounding cannabis, it can easily put schools in a bind when drafting drug policies.

“With the schools having so many federal rules imposed on them, they do have to follow the federal prohibition on this, most likely,” he said. “Ultimately, what we hope is that the federal rules will change, and it will allow students who have a medical marijuana certification for a debilitating medical condition to be able to use that as a doctor would recommend.”

A federal bill to legalize marijuana was recently introduced in Congress by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat. The “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act” would remove cannabis from the list of controlled substances and place it under the oversight of federal agencies.



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