Colorado state Senate panel unanimously backs expanding medical cannabis access at schools

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A Colorado state Senate panel on Wednesday took the first step to expand students’ access to medical marijuana while at school.

The bipartisan bill from Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, and Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, would build on two pieces of legislation previously approved by the General Assembly: Jack’s Law and Quintin’s Amendment. Those measures, passed in 2016 and 2018 respectively, allow non-smokable medical marijuana to be administered to a student. Jack’s Law allows parents or caregivers to administer the medicine, while Quintin’s Amendment gave principals the authority to allow it to be stored on campus and administered by school nurses and designated personnel.

Despite that discretion allowed under law, policymakers in some districts have opted against allowing on-campus storage or administration by school officials — including the Douglas County school board in Holbert’s district. That left a pair of his constituents entangled in a legal battle to provide potentially life-saving medication to their high school-age son.

Brad and Amber Wann told lawmakers at the hearing their son, Ben, an epileptic, uses hemp oil to prevent seizures and relies on a nasal spray with THC to stop seizures if they occur. But he was banned from keeping the nasal spray at school, a move Holbert found especially troubling because Ben is severely allergic to epinephrine, the drug paramedics normally apply to treat seizures.

“If there’s not some adult there to say, ‘Wait, timeout, don’t hit him with the standard procedure,’ that might kill him,” Holbert said, adding that it made him angry that “my school board would somehow assume to decide which kid in our school district lives and which dies.”

A Douglas County School District spokeswoman was not available for comment.

While the Wanns eventually won a lawsuit backing their allegations that the Douglas County School District’s policy discriminated against Ben, Holbert said he didn’t want other families to be forced to pursue court action in order to get their kids the medicine they need. His bill is designed to take the discretion out of a principal’s hands and require school boards to create policies on storage and administration of cannabis-based medicine by school personnel similar to pharmaceutical prescriptions like Adderall or Ritalin. 

Amber Wann said the bill was exactly what’s needed to “protect all students in the state.”

“We do know that teachers that are on the ground want to do this and help kids, and I feel like if we can get the blockades out of the way and just allow them to, volunteers will step up,” she said.

And she wasn’t alone in that sentiment. The bill received universal acclaim from the nearly two dozen witnesses who appeared before the Senate Education Committee. Those included a number of advocacy groups and families, many of whom moved to Colorado from out of state so their children could access medical marijuana to treat epilepsy, autism and Crohn’s disease.

That perspective, Holbert said in emotional closing comments, was one he did not understand when he initially opposed marijuana legalization.

“I thought that medical marijuana was an excuse for people to get high, sit around and smoke pot,” he said. “That’s wrong, and if I did my job at all well, maybe you can avoid the mistake that I made.”

The panel’s seven members voted unanimously to advance the bill out of their committee and on to the Senate Appropriations Committee.