Once again, Florida school districts are in an impossible position. This time, they have to create a policy for student medical marijuana use without jeopardizing their federal funding. While school districts have pragmatically settled on a hands-off approach to administering medical marijuana, it’s unfortunate the tired differences between state and federal marijuana regulations are making it harder on families whose children benefit from medical marijuana.
The state reasonably decided school districts have had enough time to comply with the state law that requires them to “adopt a policy and procedure” for allowing a student who is a qualified patient to use medical marijuana. That law was passed more than two years ago. But school districts have struggled with how to enact a policy that could directly contradict outdated federal law that still considers all use of marijuana illegal. A prominent policy firm that advises several Florida school districts even told them last fall that it would not write any rules related to medical marijuana. Districts receive significant funding from the federal government, like Title I funding that supplements schools with high populations of low-income students. They cannot risk losing that money.
In early October, Florida Department of Education chancellor, division of public schools, Jacob Oliva told districts they had about two months to get something in writing or face the consequences. In Tampa Bay, nine out of 10 local school districts had not enacted any kind of medical marijuana policy as of the end of September, according to WTSP Channel 10. Now some are scrambling to devise them. Pasco County approved their policy at a school board meeting Tuesday. School boards in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties plan to vote on their policies in December.
To satisfy the state and avoid angering Washington, some school districts have chosen to allow students to administer their drugs through a primary caregiver rather than a school staff professional. Pinellas’ draft policy holds that a primary caregiver must be 21 years of age and a Florida resident who has a caregiver identification card issued by the Department of Health and meets guidelines set by the state. School staff or school administration are not allowed to “administer, store, hold or transport the medical marijuana in any form,” the proposed policy reads. Pasco’s similar policy says authorized caregivers can administer prescribed medical marijuana at school. But they will not allow marijuana to be in the hands of school nurses, health care personnel or school administrators at any time.
The careful language of these policies underscores just how ridiculous it is for the outdated federal law to be in conflict with state law. When schools must jump through hoops to please both the state and federal government, something has to change. More than 277,000 people in Florida have medical marijuana cards. At least 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. It’s time the federal government caught up and stopped making life so difficult for families.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.