Parents Sue School Over Daughter’s Right to Medical Marijuana

Beth Greenfield
·Senior Editor
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Roger Barbour is suing his daughter Genny’s New Jersey school district, which won’t allow her to take needed cannabis-oil treatments on the property. (Photo: John Munson/New Jersey On-Line LLC)

The New Jersey parents of a 16-year-old girl with epilepsy and autism are suing for their daughter’s right to consume cannabis oil at school, kicking off a landmark legal case that could have far-reaching impact.

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“She could have Valium or oxycodone, but not medical marijuana. Other children can take their medicine. My daughter cannot,” Roger Barbour, a Maple Shade attorney who is representing himself, his wife Lora, and their daughter Genny, told NJ.com. He did not return a call requesting comment from Yahoo Parenting. “My daughter is a citizen of this state, and this is a violation of her state and federal constitutional rights.”

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At issue here is that two laws are in conflict with each other: the federal Drug Free School 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. It’s something a judge pointed out in a first-round decision, in January, that sided with the cannabis-barring school district.

More recently, the school board offered a compromise that would allow Genny’s parents to come and retrieve her at lunchtime on a daily basis, administering her the oil away from school property. The Barbours refused, saying it would disrupt her routine.

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(Photo: John Munson/New Jersey On-Line LLC)

Since August, they’ve been part of a fast-growing movement of parents across the country that have turned to medical marijuana as a last-resort treatment for their sick children, many of whom have found relief from autism or seizure disorders. That’s when the Barbours began administering drops of homemade cannabis oil to Genny in the morning, after school, and at bedtime, and in addition to having fewer seizures, they say Genny became more attentive, gentle, and verbal. “There has been a total change in my daughter,” Lora told NJ.com. “She is more of a person.”

But it soon became clear that the medicine’s effects were wearing off by late afternoon, prompting her doctor to recommend the teen take a fourth dose with her lunch at school.

But when her parents asked the permission of their daughter’s Larc School, a private school for children with developmental disabilities, as well as the Maple Shade school district, they were told it would not be permitted. (The school district is involved here because Larc is a district placement school, used as a resource for students whose special needs are not able to be accommodated by the district.) Until it’s worked out, Genny is only attending half days of school in order to allow her to have her fourth dose of treatment.

“These kids are not smoking blunts or bongs,” explains Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML (National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws), “but using delivery methods that look like what we have for any other kinds of drugs, usually taken orally.” He believes that social stigma around the use of marijuana is part of problem here, noting, “If only we can strip away the ‘reefer madness,’ and realize we are discussing a medicine, like any medicine, that kids may need to take to school.” He argues that, ideally, the cannabis oil should be treated like any other “mildly psychoactive” medicinal substance that children need to have while at school, typically with the aid of the school nurse, but that “the parents, child, and physician are caught between two arguably bad laws.” Other states dealing with this issue include Colorado, which just passed a law granting waivers for children needing to take cannabis at school, and Maine, which is considering a similar bill.

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(Photo: John Munson/New Jersey On-Line LLC)

While St. Pierre lauds the Barbours for fighting the school district, he laments that a case like this has been filed in New Jersey, a state, he notes, where “the medical marijuana laws are some of the most restrictive in the country, especially for kids.” Potential outcomes, he says, all seem unlikely: A judge could strike down the drug-free school zone law, or the district could decide, in an ad hoc way, to grant special exemptions. “Though one could understand why they might not want to open up that Pandora’s Box,” he says.

The crux of the issue, though, is at the federal level. “If and when the federal government removes marijuana from its ridiculous schedule of 1 — and even makes it 2, where it would join cocaine and OxyContin — we won’t be having this discussion,” he says.

But even so, says Tamar Todd, Director of Marijuana Law and Policy for the Drug Policy Alliance, the school would likely be left alone if it adopted the “sensible approach” of allowing Genny to both attend school and treat her condition. “The district could relent, allow her to attend school, let her take the medicine, and everything would likely be fine,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “It’s far fetched to think that the U.S. attorney would jump in.”

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