NORTH BEND — Oregon schools are getting caught between the state and the federal government over medical marijuana.
The problem began when medical marijuana became legal in Oregon in 1998. The legalization allowed small home-grown doses for certain medical conditions. Then in 2012 voters approved a medical marijuana dispensary registry to regulate the retail market. Even after all these years, it is still illegal at the federal level.
In fact, it is categorized by the Drug Enforcement Agency as a Schedule I, which prohibits drugs with, “no currently accepted medical use.” Marijuana appears on the list next to heroin, LSD, meth, and ecstasy.
Schools are caught in the middle because individuals under 21 can hold a medical marijuana card in Oregon. The danger for schools is if the marijuana makes it onto campus, then they stand to lose out on federal revenue.
“This is a problem for schools,” said Brad Bixler, communications specialist with the North Bend School District. “What we’re finding is that some kids have a need and families have reached outside of the traditional realms of medicine for products derived from the cannabis plant, which are showing to have benefits for some things these kids deal with.”
One of the main uses of medical marijuana is to treat epilepsy. After it was legalized in Colorado, the state saw people move in just for access to the drug for their children.
“For schools, these situations don’t come with prescriptions from doctors,” Bixler explained. “They are more like medical notes.”
Medical notes are actually handed out by companies such as Left Coast, but only after symptoms are confirmed by a doctor. The notes also cost $400 to obtain, making them the most expensive in any state.
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“We’re in the process of evaluating our policies regarding prescription and non-prescription medication,” Bixler said. “This is one that recently came up for review. We have a policy for both of those, but are combining them under one umbrella called ‘medications,’ so this won’t change what we do in terms of services for students and families.”
However, Bixler pointed to other districts that have bumped into situations regarding medical marijuana because of the card-carrying ability for younger individuals.
“These kids could have an identified need to access some of the cannabis plant during the school day,” he said. “Because it’s not a prescription from a doctor, we can’t handle it through our prescription medication policy and it isn’t something we can sign off on because it’s not an over-the-counter medication. We’re really restricted on what we can do. We have to be very careful and be aware of what may be coming onto our campuses and how to handle it.”
Bixler gave the school board a heads up on the issue during last week’s regular meeting. He has researched different protocols that other school districts have taken to avoid breaking federal law.
“What we’re finding is often the child is picked up for lunch or during break and leaves with the family off campus,” Bixler said. “Then after they have what they need, they are brought back. The point is, because it’s still listed as a Schedule I, it is still a very big deal for us.”
He said that many schools in larger communities around the state are starting to deal with this problem already. Though there are currently no students at the North Bend School District with a medical marijuana card, “it’s just a matter of time.”
“We’re not changing our policy per se, but are certainly ready to make an adjustment,” Bixler said.
The World reached out to the Oregon Department of Education for comment, but didn't receive a response by the deadline for this story.