Medical marijuana became a legal reality in Massachusetts on Jan. 1, 2013, but what that means for the state’s school districts remains a murky question.
The Wayland School Committee’s policy subcommittee, comprised of Barb Fletcher and Beth Butler, is beginning to consider the issue with an eye toward constructing new policy or modifying existing policy to address use of medical marijuana at Wayland’s schools.
“The question is whether or not this medical marijuana falls under the category of medicine rather than illegal drugs,” said Butler, a former judge, as she examined Wayland’s existing policies about drugs, alcohol and tobacco use on campus. “Just because [the state] allowed it, it’s still a federal law.”
That’s the question that Michael Gilbert, a field director with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said forms the foundation of his organization’s concerns and creates a complicated situation.
“The biggest issue that we have to grapple with is the fact that we have a federal law that says marijuana is illegal, and we have federal laws that say you can’t have illegal drugs in school,” Gilbert explained. “Frankly, what we’re trying to do is get the legislature to deal with the potential issue and carve out some exceptions where these conflicts exist.”
And the Massachusetts legislature is discussing the situation on some level. Sen. John Keenan (D-Quincy) has drafted a bill designed to "close loopholes and strengthen safeguards in the statute," according to a press release from his office.
One section of the bill prohibits the "smoking or consumption" of any marijuana on school, college or university grounds (public or private) or buses; public transportation; or in the presence of anyone under the age of 18, among other restrictions.
When it comes to guidelines specific for Wayland schools, the School Committee’s policy subcommittee said Friday that it wants to look specifically at the School Committee’s existing policy JICH, Alcohol and Drug Use, which reads:
In view of the fact that the use of alcohol and/or drugs can endanger the health and safety of the user and others, and recognizing the deleterious effect the use of alcoholic beverages can have on the maintenance of general order and discipline, the School Committee prohibits the use of, serving of, or consumption of any alcoholic beverage on school property or at any school function.
Additionally, any student, regardless of age, who has been drinking alcoholic beverages prior to attendance at, or participation in, a school-sponsored activity, will be barred from that activity and subject to disciplinary action.
In reading the policy, Fletcher pointed out that it mentions “drugs,” but technically only prohibits the use of alcohol. Still, she added, it appears to be the “policy to amend” to address the medical marijuana question.
Gilbert said that his organization recognizes that this policy issue could leap from boardroom discussion to boots-on-the-ground concerns at any time. Medical marijuana is now legal in the Commonwealth regardless of whether schools have outlined a policy response.
The state's Department of Public Health is charged with issuing regulations and guidance related to certain aspects of the law by May 1, 2013. According to an FAQ published by that department, until those regulations are issued, no dispensaries can open. As of Jan. 1, 2013, however, patients with a doctor's recommendation could begin using medical marijuana and growing limited amounts in their homes for personal use.
“We don’t have a great deal of guidance from the state on this issue because the law was passed by initiative petition,” Gilbert said, adding that his organization is working on drafting some guidance for local school committees.
For now, he said, “Our advice to school districts would likely be, ‘Do not put your federal funds in jeopardy, therefore you need to comply with the federal law.’”
Fletcher and Butler agreed during Friday’s meeting to continue seeking guidance on the topic, looking specifically to districts that already have policies as well as how other states have responded. The conversation will be revisited at a later meeting.