A controversial statewide bill inspired by two Millersville teenagers who suffer seizure disorders could ensure students across Maryland who qualify for medical marijuana get easier access during the school day.
House Bill 617 would require the State Department of Education and the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Commission to develop written guidelines for public schools on administering medical cannabis during school hours, at school sponsored after-school events, and on school buses.
It also would allow parents and legal guardians of qualifying children to designate other caregivers who would be able to transport and administer the substance, and repeal a limitation on the number of qualifying students a caregiver could administer to.
Under current law, parents of children who qualify for medical marijuana have to remove their children from school grounds to administer their doses during the day. Medical cannabis is typically administered to children only in cases of serious conditions with no alternative treatments, including cancer and epilepsy. They usually receive their doses through drops under the tongue or lozenges.
The bill, sponsored by House Minority Leader Del. Nic Kipke, R-Pasadena, has been cross-filed in the Senate by Sen. Brian J. Feldman, D-Montgomery County. It has bipartisan support in both houses.
“I’m hopeful we can get a law passed that is safe and helpful to kids who have a better quality of life because of medical marijuana,” Kipke said in an interview with The Capital. “Ultimately, for this very small population of kids, we should make it easy as long as there is a safe framework for administering it.”
This bill competes with House Bill 331, sponsored by Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, D-Harford County, which is nearly identical, except it doesn’t reach so far as to make regulations for school buses, and it doesn’t mandate offering the policy guidelines to nonpublic schools upon request.
Kipke said he believes about 157 minors across the state qualify for medical cannabis, and although it’s a relatively small number, it’s vital to their quality of life that they have easy access to their treatment at school. He was inspired to introduce the bill after hearing the story of Stephanie Flamino Pippen’s two children.
Max Pippen, 19, and Mimi Pippen, 15, use medical cannabis daily for severe epilepsy and developmental disabilities.
Pippen said she thinks that the number of children who utilize this treatment in Maryland would increase if it was easier for them to attend school.
Pippen’s children receive an education through Anne Arundel County Public School’s Home and Hospital Teaching Unit, so they are able to receive their maintenance and rescue doses of medical cannabis whenever necessary, but she said this bill will help countless other families across the state.
Expanding the definition of caregivers alone will make a huge difference, Pippen and Kipke said. As it is now, it’s difficult for parents who work, or have multiple children, or are single to be the only ones who can administer the child’s medical cannabis doses.
Though many parents of children with epilepsy say this bill would make a huge difference for their families, school nurses and administrators remain wary.
Schools wouldn’t be required to have school nurses administer the doses, Kipke said, that part would be optional. Though, he said, he wouldn’t oppose an amendment to require that.
The Maryland Association of Boards of Education said in a letter to lawmakers that it could only support the bill if school nurses are struck from the list of eligible administrators. State laws in both New Jersey and Delaware that allow for the administration of medical cannabis to kids exclude school nurses.
Jeanette Ortiz, legislative and policy counsel for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, warned against the policy.
“AACPS has concerns with the mandate in this bill requiring school systems to have a policy on the administration of medical cannabis because cannabis is still illegal under federal law and considered a Schedule I drug with no exceptions made for medical cannabis,” Ortiz wrote in as statement. “By requiring the adoption of a written policy regarding the administration of medical cannabis, (this bill) puts local school systems at risk of federal scrutiny and at risk of potential loss of federal funding.”
She also expressed concern about liability for school nurses and other school health professionals.
Nancy Manzo-Mattucci, who said she has worked as a school health nurse for 26 years, echoed those concerns in written testimony provided to the House Health and Government Operations Committee.
“We want what is best for children, we want to alleviate their pain and symptoms and help them access learning,” Manzo-Mattucci said. “School nurses care for children, it is our passion.”
She noted the lack of evidence based research on the way medical cannabis could impact children, and said it is important to study medications before administering them.
“We do not know how medical cannabis will affect developing brains and cognition in children,” Manzo-Mattuci wrote.
Maryland Board of Nursing President Gary N. Hicks also expressed concern in a letter sent to lawmakers.
“The Board is concerned that cannabis legislation has outpaced research, thereby creating a practice in nursing that cannot be adequately regulated,” Hicks wrote.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Pippen said that taking “baby steps” towards legalizing cannabis on a federal level will allow for more opportunities to study it. Until then, she said, the difference it’s made for her children has been enough to convince her.
“It’s unnerving for a lot of parents — I was nervous when we first started too,” Pippen said. “It’s insane how well it does work.”
Before they started using medical cannabis, Pippen said, her children were treated with anti-epilepsy drugs that only occasionally curbed the seizures. They dealt with a bevy of side effects — from flat affect to rage, and sleepiness to hyperactivity.
In addition to reducing their seizures, the improvement she’s seen in her children has been, “beyond measure.”
For her son Max, who was diagnosed with epilepsy as a toddler, she said it’s made a world of difference. He’s happier, more empathetic and more open to instruction, she said.
“We used it to help stop seizures — we didn’t realize it would have so many other benefits,” Pippen said. “It makes him feel more comfortable in the world.”
Kipke said his vote for legalizing medical cannabis two years ago was also inspired by the Pippen family: “I put myself in their shoes and thought I would do whatever it took. I would smuggle it from wherever I could get it from. I would break whatever law was necessary to provide this treatment for my kids if they were in the same situation.”