GOP lawmaker: “It’s ridiculous — we passed a law that says you can use these products and here you can’t use them in schools or nursing homes.”
Cannabis plants are shown in July 2018 inside the MedPharm Iowa plant in Des Moines. (The Gazette)
It’s 2022, the second year of a Democratic presidential administration, and marijuana still is very illegal under federal law. Iowa and most other states are still running illicit medical cannabis cartels.
The feds probably won’t start putting people in prison over Iowa’s heavily restricted medical cannabis program. Still, any entity that is regulated or funded by the federal government faces the threat of severe consequences for accommodating illegal drug use.
In particular, schools and residential care centers worry they could lose federal funding for their part in helping to administer cannabis, a Schedule I drug wrongly classified by the federal government as having a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical value.
Iowa policymakers have been trying to bring the medical program in line with federal law but it’s a slow and frustrating process. A bipartisan Iowa Senate subcommittee this past week advanced a resolution calling on the federal drug enforcers to grant an exception to the Controlled Substances Act.
“It’s ridiculous — we passed a law that says you can use these products and here you can’t use them in schools or nursing homes,” State Sen. Brad Zaun said at the recent subcommittee meeting.
Even if the federal bureaucrats don’t defund schools and care centers, the mere threat is standing in the way of necessary medical treatment.
Iowa officials last year sent a letter to federal entities to seek assurance that funding wouldn’t be impacted over use of medical marijuana. The Food and Drug Administration responded to say FDA grant eligibility by academic institutions wouldn’t be affected but other agencies have not responded to the request.
Federal regulations allow the Drug Enforcement Administration to grant exceptions to federal drug laws but no state has received one for its medical marijuana program. Instead, programs are operating outside the law, which causes problems for patients and providers.
“There are Iowa patients within these facilities who are unable to store their medication at the facility, or have their medication administered by facility staff, because of concerns about adverse consequences for the facilities,” the Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Board wrote in its 2019 annual report.
This has been a known issue nationally for years. In the 47 states allowing medical cannabis, school and care facility administrators are in a terrible position, stuck between state laws that call marijuana medicine and federal laws that put it in the same category as heroin.
Some state and local authorities around the country have mandated that patients be able to take their medicine in defiance of federal law, some have forbade it and some have tried to find a middle ground — like by allowing patients and their caregivers to have the drugs but not allowing school or facility staff to administer them. And others are declining to take a position or letting it happen while looking the other way.
A federal court in New Mexico ruled in 2019 that federal anti-discrimination protections for students with disabilities don’t necessarily extend to students requiring marijuana. A student experiencing seizures was prohibited from taking cannabis at school and also was denied in-home instruction. A U.S. district court judge said that accommodation would be “absurd” because it would require the school district to “commit or accommodate a federal crime.”
In Maine, schools are required to make reasonable accommodations for students who are authorized to use medical cannabis. Yet in 2020, the federal government told state education department officials they would lose out on millions in federal grants for permitting marijuana use. Ironically, it was funding for substance abuse and mental health programs.
In guidance issued this year, the Texas Association of School Board officials basically recommended that schools not take a firm stance one way or another. “Don’t rush to adopt a policy that may be impacted or even negated by pending issues on the state or federal levels,” they wrote.
What we’ve got here is a crisis of federalism. Clarence Thomas, the most conservative member of the Supreme Court, calls it “a contradictory and unstable state of affairs.”
The central government’s failure to wind down marijuana prohibition is having a paralyzing effect on state and local governments. Even if the federal bureaucrats don’t defund schools and care centers, the mere threat is standing in the way of necessary medical treatment.
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