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Editorial: Homework for PED: Make rules match law on medical pot

Did you hear the one about the difference between “and” and “or”? It sounds like the opening of a tediously academic lawyer joke. But the distance between the two is important, especially in a dispute about how N.M.’s medical marijuana program works in K-12 schools.

And, however tedious, it’s a difference the state Public Education Department needs to reconcile ASAP.

As Journal writer Shelby Perea reported Aug. 1, there’s a dispute over differences between the letter of new legislation about on-campus medical cannabis and the exact wording of PED’s proposed rules around the issue.

In brief: Senate Bills 204 and 406, each of which were passed into law earlier this year, paved the way to allow New Mexican children who are qualified medical marijuana patients to have access to their medication on campus. Provisions in those laws included requirements that local school boards and the governing bodies of charter schools set their own policies on the “possession, storage and administration” of the medical cannabis, either by parents/legal guardians or by school personnel.

That “or” is important. It acknowledges the power of school districts to shape their own policies on whether a school staffer gives Billy his meds or whether Billy’s mom or dad has to leave work to give him his dose. But the PED rule – scheduled to go into effect Aug. 27 – contains differences. It requires school boards to adopt policies and procedures that address the administration of medical cannabis in school settings by “primary caregivers and designated school personnel.”

So, Albuquerque Public Schools and Rio Rancho Public schools are concerned that PED is going further than the law and requiring someone on staff to store cannabis and actually give students their doses. Many parents most likely would prefer that so they don’t have to schedule their day around going to school to give Billy his cannabis. After all, parents of children on other meds don’t have to go through this.

Here’s the difference: Although medical marijuana is legal under N.M. law, marijuana is still an illegal Schedule 1 drug under federal law. (FYI, under the proposed rule and the law, students are not allowed to self-administer medical cannabis at school.)

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, the Albuquerque Democrat who sponsored SB 204, called the concerns “hyper-technical,” and in a sense he’s right. Here – and in the other 30-plus states with legalized medicinal marijuana programs – the federal government has yet to come after medical programs on the basis of their use of cannabis alone.

It’s also worth noting that just 202 minors are enrolled in New Mexico’s medical marijuana program, so most schools would not be affected.

The good news is it shouldn’t be hard for PED to clarify its rule and exactly mimic language used in the bills. And it’s likely some districts will require parents to come in and administer the doses themselves. PED should move quickly, since most schools are in session or start next week, and it’s important a program be in place.

If parents who are required to administer their child’s medicine consider this too much of a hardship, they should take it up with lawmakers in future sessions.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.