School board gives officials more time to research medical marijuana policy

Bryan Harwell, executive director of personnel and operations for Ada City Schools, listens to an Ada Board of Education discussion Monday night. For the second straight month, the board did not vote on adopting a medical-marijuana policy, giving district officials more time to research the subject.

Ada City Schools officials will continue researching the issue of medical marijuana before recommending a policy for the Ada Board of Education’s consideration.

For the second consecutive month, the school board did not take action on the issue Monday night. The delay gives officials more time to study the issue before making a recommendation.

“Let’s continue to read and continue to get as much information as we can,” said Superintendent Mike Anderson. “We may need to discuss this again next month before we try and approve a policy.”

Medical marijuana

The school district currently bars students and employees from using controlled substances, including alcohol and medical marijuana, on campus and at school-related events. However, officials are looking at updating the policy in light of Oklahoma’s recent legalization of medical marijuana.

The school district is considering two possible policies — one prepared by a law firm that the district uses occasionally, and one prepared by the Oklahoma State School Board Association.

The law firm’s proposed policy would follow federal law and ban marijuana under any circumstances, even for medical purposes. As a result, the district would continue to outlaw the use of medical marijuana on school property or at school-related events.

The OSSBA’s proposal takes a different approach. Under the OSSBA’s policy, the district would not regulate or discipline employees for holding a medical marijuana license — but the district could still take action against staffers who use or possess marijuana while at school or during working hours.

Students who use medical marijuana to treat a medical condition would be allowed to use it in accordance with state law, but school employees would be barred from administering the drug to students. Instead, the district would set up a private location where caregivers could administer the drug to students at school.

State law limits who may act as a caregiver, and all caregivers would have to hold a medical marijuana license authorizing them to act on a student’s behalf.

The OSSBA’s policy would forbid staffers and students from smoking any substance on school property, in keeping with the state’s nonsmoking laws. Staffers would be barred from assisting students in obtaining or using medical marijuana, storing the drug for students or serving as a caregiver — unless the student is the child of the employee or in the employee’s custody.

State vs. federal law

The problem in developing a medical-marijuana policy is that federal and state laws are at odds on the subject, Superintendent Anderson said.

“Marijuana in any form remains a controlled illegal substance under federal law,” Anderson said. “And the fact that we sign assurances saying that we will be compliant with the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Act and the Drug-Free Workplace Act — as such, the district authorizing the possession, use or administration of medical marijuana is at risk of losing and having to repay federal funds. I don’t want to do that.”

But Anderson said state law makes it equally clear that Oklahomans who hold a medical marijuana license — including eligible students — are allowed to use the drug. He added that he did not know of any school districts that had lost federal funding because they allowed the use of medical marijuana.

Ada Board of Education President Keri Norris said she was not sure whether the district should permit medical marijuana on school property.

“My inclination is to not allow it, but for the legitimate needs…” she said before trailing off.

Board member Russ Gurley said only seriously ill children would need to use medical marijuana, and the risk that they would abuse the drug was fairly small. He said requiring caregivers to pick students up from school, take them home for their medicine and drive them back to class seemed more disruptive than allowing caregivers to administer the drug at school.

“If it’s medicine, bring it up, give it to them, get them back in their classroom,” he said. “I think we’re looking at it as marijuana and not medicine.”

Eric Swanson is the City Hall and general assignment reporter for The Ada News. He spent 15 years working at the Dodge City Daily Globe in Dodge City, Kansas, before joining The Ada News’ staff in 2012.