Proposed Law Allows Access to Medical Marijuana in Illinois Schools

An 11-year-old’s case leads to big changes as Illinois lawmakers vote to give kids access to medical marijuana in school.
Proposed Law Allows Access To Medical Marijuana In Illinois Schools
U.S. Department of Education / flickr

One of the most controversial issues surrounding medical marijuana is whether or not children should have access to it. While certain states allow pediatricians to recommend cannabis, new dilemmas come to light. For example, should pediatric medical marijuana patients be permitted to take their medication on school grounds? In Illinois, a sixth-grader who depends on medical cannabis to suppress seizures has been the center of such a legal battle for almost a year. Last fall, her parents fought to get her the right to use her medicine on school premises. While they had a victory back in January, the fight was far from over. This week, the case led to legislation that would allow all children access to medical marijuana in Illinois schools.

The Surins

Doctors diagnosed Ashley Surin of Hanover Park, Illinois with leukemia when she was two years old. Though her treatment was successful and Ashley’s cancer is in remission, she still experiences side effects from her chemotherapy medication, namely methotrexate. Without medication, she has seizures on a daily basis due to neurological damage from methotrexate.

According to Ashley’s parents, medical marijuana has been a “golden cure” for her seizures. High Times reported last fall that Ashley uses CBD oil and a transdermal patch which contains almost no THC. This means that while wearing the patch, Ashley doesn’t experience the ‘high’ from the psychoactive cannabinoid.

Medical marijuana has also allowed Ashley to stop taking other prescriptions. Maureen Surin, Ashley’s mother, told local news, “Now she’s five months seizure free today and she’s off three prescription meds that we were on for almost seven, eight years.”

Ashley Surin has legal access to cannabis through her medical marijuana recommendation. However, using medical marijuana in school, even the non-psychoactive and non-smokeable kind, is still illegal under Illinois law.

Ashley’s parents brought her case to court, claiming that this ban contradicts the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. In short, the Illinois School District’s prohibition of medical marijuana use prevented Ashley from attending school, which is her right.

The Hanover Park school decided soon after to allow Ashley to use medical marijuana on school premises. As this decision defied state law, the school had to discuss with the Illinois Attorney General.

What about all the other children who use medical marijuana, and need to do so at school? Ashley became a legal exception.

Ashley Surin’s Case Led to State-Wide Legislation

So lawmakers got to work on new legislation that would allow all medical marijuana card-holding children to use cannabis at school. Specifically, proposed Bill HB4870 would alter the School Code.

This legislation does come with a few caveats. Parents must administer the medical marijuana to their children and both must be registered under the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act.

Additionally, children can only use non-smokeable medicine. The law only applies to edibles, CBD oil, and transdermal patches.

Jim Surin, Ashley’s father, is hopeful about what this law will do. He explained, “This will open the door potentially for kids like Ashley and other kids in Illinois to have medical marijuana on school grounds that can be administered in a situation where it’ll regulate these types of illnesses.”

As of yesterday, Bill HB4870 has passed both the House and the Senate. It’s up to Governor Bruce Rauner to sign it into law. With wide support from both sides of the aisle, this bill could make medical marijuana a reality for children in schools across Illinois, and set a precedent for other states.

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