ELK RIVER, Minn. — Sabrina and Tim Mattis say medical cannabis has been a game changer for their 9-year-old daughter Krystal, who has autism spectrum disorder and epilepsy.
They were eager for her to try school full-time this fall after years of half-days in school because of extensive speech, physical, and occupational therapies consuming a lot of her time.
But that was short-lived, they told WCCO in an interview Thursday, because district officials said she couldn't take a mid-day dose of her medical cannabis on school grounds. It's essential for her to thrive in the classroom.
"I feel it's unfair. It's unjust," Sabrina Mattis said. "She just deserves to be at school a full day and have her medicine like any other kid."
The school district told them they could leave school, give her the dose — which is a cannabis oil tincture of CBD and THC mixed with juice — and bring her back, they said.
But instead, they've opted instead to return to half-days, fearing the disruption would be too confusing and harmful for their daughter, who is non-verbal and uses a device to help her communicate.
"To take her back, that just throws her out of her routine. The chances of her not understanding the whole situation and having discomfort more likely to not have a good rest of the day, as opposed to us just going there administering her dose and leaving and it's barely an interruption," Tim said.
When asked about the policy, an ISD 728 spokesman in a statement told WCCO that it "cannot comment on a student's medical interactions with our schools," citing student data privacy.
Desperate for solutions, Sabrina sought out DFL Rep. Zack Stephenson, who authored the recreational cannabis bill legalizing marijuana use for adults 21 and over starting this summer.
That law also covers medical cannabis; both the adult use and medical markets will soon fall under a new state Office of Cannabis Management getting up and running.
Stephenson told her that the statute prohibits cannabis use, possession, and transportation on school grounds but there's an exception for medical cannabis, so long as it isn't smoked or in vaporized form. WCCO also included the statute provisions in an email seeking comment from the district, but officials only provided the statement citing data privacy.
In a brief phone interview, he said he spoke with the family and explained that keeping the medical cannabis program intact was top of mind for lawmakers drafting the language, in order to ensure children could still access medicine they rely on. It's been in effect since 2015 and has more than 40,000 patients enrolled, including 450 children under 18, according to state data.
"There is a strong distinction between medical and adult-use cannabis," Stephenson told WCCO.
The Mattis family hopes the district will reconsider their policy, or that the legislature will pass a separate law enforcing that provision, so schools are required to let children access their medical cannabis on school property.
A recent law expanded in Colorado requires schools to have a policy allowing nurses or other school personnel to administer the medical cannabis dose if they are willing.
"We hope to bring justice for children on medical cannabis, so they can be allowed to take their medicine at school, just the same as any other child in the state of Minnesota. That's what we're hoping," Sabrina said.
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