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School districts across New York and other states (in addition to Washington, D.C.) that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes are finding themselves in the middle of a unique legal conundrum: do we permit our students to use medical marijuana in schools, in compliance with state law, or do we prohibit them from doing so because marijuana use is still banned on the federal level?

On the federal level, marijuana is a “Schedule 1” controlled substance.

The federal government does not recognize the lawful use of medical marijuana even though medical marijuana typically has significantly less tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound in the drug that produces a “high” feeling, than recreational marijuana and contains more cannabidiol (CBD), the substance that does not produce psychoactive effects.

As of April 2019, there have not been any reported instances of the federal government prosecuting individuals for their use of medical marijuana in accordance with a state medicinal marijuana law. Nevertheless, school officials may be reluctant to risk running afoul of federal law and possibly losing federal funding.

On the other hand, another federal law, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, generally requires school districts to assist a student in the administration of needed medication.

Schools should consider and determine on an individual basis whether to grant a request from a student with a disability to take medical marijuana during the school day after determining whether the use would be an appropriate reasonable accommodation to give the student equal access to a free appropriate public education in accordance with Section 504. Allowing students to use medicinal marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of a qualifying medical condition would be consistent with various state and federal laws requiring reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities (e.g., Section 504).

Consult with legal counsel should a student request to use medical marijuana during the school day or on school grounds.

– Robert H. Cohen and Lauren Schnitzer Lamb & Barnosky, LLP


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