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Groundbreaking Case Allows Illinois Student Medical Cannabis Access at School

A groundbreaking decision by an Illinois federal judge allowed 11 year old Ashley Surin of Schaumburg, IL, to return to her public school with her medicine; a medical cannabis patch, cannabis oil and lotion. She had been prevented from attending school due to the Illinois law on cannabis usage. One of the provisions of the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program bars the use of medical cannabis on public school grounds, on school buses or at school-related events. The Surins filed a lawsuit against the State of Illinois and the Schaumburg School District 54, asserting that the policy violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

While the school district officials were sympathetic to Ashley’s needs, they felt constrained to follow the Illinois medical cannabis laws. This meant that Ashley had to stay out of school while the Surins’ court case was being decided. After the judge voted in favor of the Surins, Assistant Attorney General, Tom Iopollo, gave his assurance to the attorneys of Schaumburg District 54 and the Surins that neither Ashley nor school nurses who administered medical cannabis products to Ashley would be prosecuted by the state of Illinois. According to Illinois law, a nurse or teacher who helped Ashley ingest her medicine could lose their license. Her parents could face criminal prosecution.

Ashley was a toddler in 2008 when she was diagnosed with childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Chemotherapy and spinal injections successfully sent her cancer into remission but left her with seizures. She was given several prescription medications that had serious side effects. They caused extreme mood swings, memory loss and lethargy but did not control her seizures. After four years of following traditional treatments and prescription medications, her seizures were still not controlled. She suffered one to three seizures per day. In addition, the side effects impeded her ability to learn.

She had a full blown seizure in a grocery store where she passed out and hit her head on the cement floor. She ended up in the hospital and had to have the blood drained from her brain. Ashley was confined to a wheelchair for several months after the episode. Her doctors recommended yet another prescription drug. Her parents decided enough was enough. They found an alternative doctor who recommended a dietary change, ketogenic diet, and medical cannabis usage. The Surins received their medical cannabis card last December.

Ashley uses medical cannabis patches twice a day which are applied to her foot. When the patch is not effective enough to control Ashley’s seizures,  she also receives a topical CBD oil with small amounts of THC on her wrists or sublingually. Her mother, Maureen Surin, described the enormous change in Ashley when she uses medical cannabis. “She can think better, walk better, talk better. Her brain used to be like in a cloud. She can viably attend school. She is more alert and can interact (with her classmates).”

This is a landmark case that may encourage Illinois to change its laws. The Schaumburg District 54 attorney, Darcy Kriha, said “the school would like to see legislative changes so just not Ashley can benefit, but other students can as well.” While this ruling only applies to Ashley, the hope is that other children in Illinois and in other medical cannabis states may benefit from future hearings. The precedent has been set. Colorado, Maine, New Jersey and Washington State allow the use of medical cannabis at school. There was an additional hearing to put a long-term approval plan in place for Ashley and the school. The Illinois Attorney General’s office will examine the state law and consider its options in making possible changes to it.

Source: usatoday.com, Illinois says it won’t stop sick girl from using medical marijuana at school, Aamer Madhani, 1/12/18

usatoday.com, Illinois sued for prohibiting ill child from using medical marijuana at elementary school, Aamer Madhani, 1/11/18

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