Last week, the Illinois Senate voted 50-2 to allow students who qualify for the state’s medical cannabis program to consume cannabis-based medications on school property. Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner now has 60 days to either sign or reject the law with a veto.
The new measure is named Ashley’s Law, after a 12-year-old student named Ashley Surin who requires medical cannabis to treat the symptoms of epilepsy. Surin attends Hanover Highlands Elementary School in Hanover Park, Illinois.
Surin developed epilepsy after she was treated with chemotherapy for leukemia. She currently uses medical cannabis patches and lotions, containing the non-psychoactive cannabis compound cannabidiol (CBD), to prevent seizures.
A handful of promising clinical studies and observational trials have found that CBD has the potential to treat epileptic patients. One study from the American Epilepsy Society (AES) found that patients treated with CBD experienced a median 45.1 percent reduction in seizures. CBD is particularly useful for patients with rare intractable forms of epilepsy who often don’t respond to traditional pharmaceutical medications.
In Illinois, children under the age of 18 can legally obtain medical cannabis products if two physicians certify that they are afflicted with a qualifying condition, such as epilepsy. According to state data, roughly 279 of Illinois’ approximately 37,000 qualifying medical cannabis patients are under the age of 18.
With more parents looking to medical cannabis to treat their children’s conditions—such as epilepsy, or Leigh’s Disease—a growing number have also encountered school policies that prevent their child from consuming these medications on school property.
In 2015, a school in New Jersey became the first in the country to enact a rule allowing students with medical cannabis prescriptions to take their medication on school property after being sued by the parents of a 16-year-old student with epilepsy.
Surin’s parents similarly gained the right to administer medical cannabis products to their daughter at school following a lawsuit they filed in federal court. However, this right was only granted to Ashley and her parents and doesn’t extend to other children in a similar circumstance. This will change if Gov. Rauner signs Ashley’s Law into effect.
Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, and Washington all currently have laws permitting qualified patients’ use of medical cannabis on school property. A bill currently seeking approval from Colorado’s Senate would also allow school nurses to help administer medical cannabis to qualified students.
The bill in Illinois would not allow students to smoke cannabis on school property nor would students be allowed to disrupt others in the school with their medical cannabis usage. However, it would permit parents, guardians and caregivers to administer medical cannabis products at school. School employees, like staff nurses, would not be required to assist in the administration of cannabis.