Schools grapple with medical marijuana policies - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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Schools grapple with medical marijuana policies

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Posted: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 11:49 am

Arizona's voter-approved law legalizing medical marijuana has left a number of decisions to be made.

Cities and towns must figure out where dispensaries can be located. The state must figure out how to regulate them.

And school districts must make clear what's acceptable and what's not for students and staff.

That last piece may be particularly tricky, some in the legal world contend.

School district policies already address student use of prescription drugs: If the prescription isn't the student's, he or she shouldn't have the medicine, or be under the influence of it.

But what about employees, such as school bus drivers? While state law may allow medical marijuana use, federal comes into play with commercial driver's licenses.

Tom Pickrell, legal counsel for the Mesa Unified School District, said policy regarding the use of medical marijuana by a staff member is "a more complex matter."

"One source of uncertainty for schools is the fact that the federal Department of Transportation regulates school buses and school transportation employees, including their drug testing," Pickrell said in an e-mail.

Bus drivers would need to comply with both state and federal law to maintain that license to drive around students, said Chris Thomas, director of legal services for the Arizona School Boards Association.

"Unlike other areas, the feds have asserted they will still fully enforce federal law regarding marijuana for safety-related occupations," Thomas said, adding that bus drivers are subject to U.S. and Arizona department of transportation standards. "I expect the guidance on bus drivers to take this into account and be very strict in not allowing a bus driver to use marijuana - Prop. 203 or not."

As for other employees, Thomas expects "that there will be a greater focus on dealing with impairment and performance issues - rather than the mere fact that they may have a license and using marijuana for medicinal purposes under the law."

ASBA is looking to craft language districts can adopt for students and staff based on direction from the state's health department.

Mesa's Pickrell said he anticipates new policy and training for staff prior to the law taking effect in April.

In regards to students, the new law mandates that anyone under 18 must have parent or guardian permission to receive a marijuana prescription. And the law specifically states which medical conditions it can be used for, including HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, Alzheimer's, and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease.

"Very few students attend school who have a debilitating medical condition that can be relieved by use of medical marijuana," Pickrell said. "Schools may have students who consume marijuana before or after school as medication for a serious medical condition. However, these students will be extremely rare and probably will be easier to accommodate than students with diabetes and other medical conditions that require health services at school."

Pickrell believes districts won't need to make significant policy changes for students because the law is very clear on several issues.

"Even with regard to registered medical marijuana users, the law does not create a right to possess or use marijuana on school grounds or a school bus," Pickrell said. "Some people may be under the impression that this law will allow some students to smoke pot at school. They are mistaken. This law is not going to usher in a new era of marijuana consumption at school."

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