A severely autistic teenager has inspired a major law change requiring school districts to allow minors under medical marijuana care to receive those treatments on school property. The law is a first in the nation.
“We didn’t think it would ever happen,” Lora Barbour, the mother of that teen —16-year-old Genny Barbour of Maple Shade, N.J., pictured above — told CBS Philly this week. “A godsend.”
Lora and her husband, Roger, an attorney who represented their case, had sued their school district (which presides over Genny’s private special-needs school, the Larc School) back in May after it barred Genny from receiving a doctor-prescribed dose of cannabis oil on school property.
In addition to autism, Genny suffers from a seizure disorder, and receiving three daily doses of homemade cannabis oil — which has healing but not psychoactive properties and is taken orally and not smoked — had cut back on her number of seizures, as well as made her more verbal, gentle, and attentive, her family found. But it soon became clear that the effects were wearing off by late afternoon, prompting Genny’s doctor to recommend the teen take a fourth dose with her lunch at school.
The school and school district would not allow it, though, because of two conflicting laws — the federal Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which bars illegal drugs from school property, and the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, which allows patients including minors to receive medical cannabis with a doctor’s approval. And that forced Genny’s parents to pick her up in the middle of the day and bring her home for her lunchtime dosage, relegating her to just half-days of school.
Roger Barbour and his daughter Genny. (Photo: John Munson/New Jersey On-Line LLC)
A judge ruled against the Barbours in August, but that became a moot point on Monday of last week, when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill requiring school boards to adopt a policy that allows parents, guardians, and primary caregivers to bring edible cannabis on a school bus or to school property to administer to any child both diagnosed with a developmental disability and registered with the state medical marijuana program.
“We had to choose between education and medicine. We would bring Genny home from school after half a day,” Lora said. “Now she can stay in school and get her medicine.”
Roger, who did not return a call from Yahoo Parenting seeking comment, told NJ.com that he and his wife were “caught off guard” and “guardedly happy” about the new law. “The ultimate goal was to keep Genny in school the whole day. Now it is clear Lora can come on campus to give her the medicine, and they have to come up with a policy [to permit that],” he said.
The Larc School’s executive director, Susan Weiner, did not immediately respond to Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment. But a school letter sent home to parents, according to CBS Philly, noted, “Larc Board of Directors approved a medical marijuana policy for our students and families — the first in the country.”
According to Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML), the new law represents a necessary part of the medical marijuana equation. “I think it’s safe to say that New Jersey lawmakers are being more progressive and forward-looking than the majority of their colleagues elsewhere,” Armentano tells Yahoo Parenting. But the state’s law, he says, represents the bare minimum type of allowance that needs to be happening everywhere.
“The bottom line is if a state is going to recognize marijuana as a therapeutic agent, then the second necessary part of that equation is that laws must provide access to the marijuana for those populations,” he says. “What we’ve seen in the past is that laws were acknowledging that marijuana has therapeutic utilities, but shied away from addressing the issue of how patients would have access. New Jersey has taken that second step, recognizing that the [medical marijuana] laws are toothless unless they also provide access.”
New Jersey’s law is a first in the country, and while advocates in other states have been grappling with the issue within their schools, they’ve faced uphill battles. Colorado, for example, recently passed “Jack’s Amendment,” named for a boy who uses a cannabis patch to help ameliorate the effects of his severe cerebral palsy. School administrators wouldn’t allow him to receive the treatments on school property, prompting a state legislator to introduce a law allowing for those treatments to happen if school policies were changed. The law passed but left it up to districts to adopt policies or not — and so far, none have. In Maine, meanwhile, a similar law that would have allowed a parent or guardian to administer cannabis oil on school grounds was vetoed by the governor in June.
As for the Genny-inspired law, NORML calls it simply a “necessary step,” which has positive potential but not a wide enough swath of power. “I get the most excited over changes in laws that have the potential to help the largest number of people. This is in place to assist a small percentage,” Armentano says. “And that’s not the paradigm that NORML would celebrate.”
Still, for the Barbour family, said Lora, “It’s a game changer.” Added Roger, “They’re welcoming her with open arms, and we are appreciative of that.”
(Top photo: John Munson/New Jersey On-Line LLC)