Zoe Adams needs cannabis oil to prevent her seizures, but it is not allowed on school campus because of conflicting federal and state laws.
Parents erupted in applause after the Volusia County School Board unanimously agreed to pursue a medical marijuana policy.
Kim Adams, backed by friends and parents from around the county, said if the board adopted a policy, forms of prescribed medical cannabis, such as CBD oil or gummies, will improve the quality of life of students who benefit from them.
Adams said her 7-year-old daughter, Zoe, has Sanfilippo syndrome, a condition in children that works similarly to Alzheimer's disease in adults. Zoe was 3 years old when she began forgetting how to do basic things, such as walking, and she has between two to five years before she dies.
Zoe's condition is accompanied by seizures, and Fla420 CBD oil given twice daily prevents them. The oil's main active ingredient is CBD, a compound in cannabis that delivers medical benefits without the associated "high" caused by the compound, THC. However, Zoe cannot take the oil on campus because of conflicting federal and state laws.
Amendment 2, which legalized medical marijuana in Florida for qualifying medical conditions, became effective in January 2017. Statutes required school districts to write medical marijuana policies, but the law also prohibited medical cannabis on campuses. Cannabis is also illegal at the federal level, though it is legal medically or recreationally in more than half the country.
The Santa Rosa and Broward school boards adopted medical marijuana policies in August, and Adams hoped Volusia would join them. She came to the school board meeting on Sept. 11 to be heard and was thrilled when members took action. The School Board will discuss the policy at its next meeting on Sept. 25.
"It's amazing," Adams said. "They were compassionate and willing to take that step."
Legal counsel said the policy will need to allow students access to their treatment without jeopardizing federal funds or subjecting the school or its employees to criminal penalties. The board intends to pursue a policy similar to those in Santa Rosa and Broward.
The policy would require the student's caregiver to come to campus to administer the medication, would not allow medical cannabis to be stored on school property and would include a clause stating the school can terminate the policy if federal funds are jeopardized. Board chair Linda Cuthbert also suggested making the experience a comfortable one for caregivers and students.
School board member Carl Persis said now is the time to act.
"I see things that are inevitably coming, and it frustrates me when they're not happening right now," he said. "This is going to be legal everywhere in the next few years, but no, we're going to sit here and argue about it."
Melody Johnson, board member and also a physician's assistant, agreed, saying she is always on the side of patient comfort.
"We're already giving students medications that are controlled (such as ADHD medication), and we're storing it in our schools," she said.
Board members Ida Wright and John Hill expressed concerns. Wright said this is a deeper issue when it comes to employees, and Hill said issues may arise if the state legalizes marijuana for recreational use.
However, both agreed that it's time to move forward.
"We should not let the fear of losing federal dollars guide our concerns as long as we have a policy that does the right thing," Hill said.