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A lesson on MMJ helps school officials deal with emerging issues

April 15, 2011

A bunch of local school administrators were sitting around last week passing the marijuana-laced brownies.

No, this wasn’t a Woodstock moment.

They were attending a forum on how to deal with medical marijuana in the classroom and on campus.

The brownies, along with a shopping bag full of tinctures, lozenges, ice tea, vaporizers and ointments were from a local medical marijuana dispensary.

The lesson: that marijuana isn’t just weed anymore. The medical marijuana dispensaries sell it in many forms to be ingested, applied topically or smoked in new electric cigarettes.

Some of the drinks shown, including a raspberry tea and agave drink, looked like beverages that any kid might have in a lunch bag.

“Now, if you see them you’ll know what they are,” said Tanya Garduno, president of Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council, which sponsored the event held at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.  The non-profit organization  provides community education, and works for standardization and self-regulation of the industry.

The administrators, including nurses, security officers and others from several area schools districts, including Falcon School District 49 and Harrison School District 2 had many questions. Most centered around the legality of medical marijuana in schools, and how it could affect the job performance of staff and the classroom performance of students.

There are about 100,000 medical marijuana users in Colorado, or 2 percent of the population. The average age of users is 40.  

There are about 32 patients under the age of 18, said panelist Brian Vicente,   Denver attorney and executive director of Sensible Colorado, which develops drug policy. The youngsters must see two doctors and parents must be the caregivers to medicate.

But panelists said it is an emerging issue in schools.

Colorado voters in 2000 made the use of medical marijuana legal, and last year, the Colorado legislature passed a law  to regulate dispensaries that includes a ban on marijuana on school campuses or school buses.

But it doesn’t address whether a person can medicate off campus and return to school. This is where misunderstandings and problems arise, Vincente said.

Shan Moore, who was in the audience, told the group that he had battled with District  2 officials over his son’s daily use to relieve severe diaphragm seizures. The district would not allow the youth to take medical marijuana on campus, or initially to medicate off campus and return to school.

However, his son now goes home to ingest a lozenge when needed.

The district followed the law, said D-2 spokeswoman Jennifer Sprague, who was not at the meeting.  “It says that students can’t be under the medication at school because it is not a prescription drug.”

Moore told the group he would like to see regulations changed so that marijuana was treated like prescription drugs, which can be administered with doctor’s approval on campus by nurses. He said when his son was on prescription drugs such as Xanax, “it made him loopy. He was out of it.” But with marijuana he was okay.

Occasionally, when the seizures are particularly bad,  he must increase his son’s dose to a level that makes him high. When that occurs, he keeps him home.

Some administrators worried that students who used medical marijuana would not be able to function. They also worried that student patients who smoked medical marijuana, even off campus, would disrupt classes because of the odor.

The panelists said parents should probably have the kids stick to the edible or topical marijuana.

Children and adolescents are at greatest risk of marijuana side effects such as reduced short term memory and  cognitive ability, said Dr. Margaret Gedde, a former researcher who uses holistic approaches in her practice, and specializes in medical marijuana. She has treated only two children.

The cognitive problems are alleviated if it is used topically, or in lozenge or extract form.
Medical marijuana can be used by school employees without job impairment if doses are regulated, panelists said.  

Gedde noted that many widely-used prescription drugs can have  much worse effects than marijuana. Opiates, for example, can make users feel like zombies.  

The school administrators were told to be the lookout for fake red-cards, which are becoming more common. The fake identification cards usually have missing information or are laminated, which is not allowed, said Clifton Black, a Colorado Springs criminal defense attorney. He warned against trying to surreptitiously have medical marijuana on campus.

Students have reduced rights when it comes to searches of lockers for illegal drugs because the lockers are considered school property.

Students have more rights when it comes to personal backpacks and purses in that there must be reasonable suspicion for schools to search. Patdowns and stripdowns are “dangerous ground for schools,” Black cautioned. “Searches using canines are best. They can get information from the air and kids don’t own the air.”

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