PROVIDENCE – School nurses in Rhode Island will now be allowed to administer medical marijuana to students with a doctor’s order, a change in regulations that seems to have caught school leaders by surprise.
Under a new school health regulation revised last month, every school district must develop procedures authorizing parents, legal guardians and school nurses to administer medical marijuana provided the student has a medical marijuana card, a doctor’s signature and a parent’s signature, among other requirements.
Rhode Island recently approved legalizing recreational marijuana use in Rhode Island. It allows an adult 21 or older to buy and possess up to an ounce of cannabis, with no more than 10 ounces for personal use kept at home. It would also allow Rhode Islanders to grow a small amount of their own cannabis at home once the law takes effect.
But the state Department of Health said the school regulation was not prompted by the change in recreational use.
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Policy came from departments of Education and Health
The policy was developed by the state departments of Education and Health, according to education spokesman Victor Morente, who said parent advocates and members of the General Assembly “expressed interest in having RIDE and RIDOH do this.”
Joseph Wendelken, a spokesman for the Department of Health, confirmed that the school health regulations were updated this spring to include medical marijuana administration in schools. But state officials didn’t know much about the new policy, and calls and emails to the state Office of Cannabis Regulation went unanswered.
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“We heard rumblings about it,” said Lincoln Supt. Larry Filippelli. “One of my nurses was concerned. You have the law (legalizing recreational marijuana) in December. If they need it for treatment, then it’s like treatment for diabetes or anything else. I think you’re wise to create a district policy. It’s not going away. That is the smart play.”
Fillippelli noted that in Lincoln, students are suspended for smoking or having marijuana.
Barrington School Committee takes no action
The Barrington School Committee on Thursday night briefly discussed the new regulation on what’s called a “first read” but did not take any action.
Here’s what the new regulations say:
Students with a medical marijuana card can’t smoke marijuana. In fact, it can only be administered in specific locations, such as the nurse’s office, and it can’t be administered on school trips.
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Students with a medical prescription can’t be disciplined for treatment or considered “under the influence” of marijuana.
Students can’t handle or administer the medical marijuana themselves.
A school nurse can refuse to administer the drug as long as it applies to all students. That nurse must make other arrangements for the student to receive his or her marijuana.
And parents must release schools from any liability unless educators intentionally disregard the provisions of the regulations.
The Journal reached out to the Rhode Island School Nurse Teachers Association but did not receive a response.
Linda Borg covers education for the Journal.