High school student CJ Harris has been responding well to cannabis treatment for his epilepsy. But school rules prohibit taking his medication on campus. The rule has forced additional debate over Georgia’s medical marijuana laws, which have already caused controversy, and CJ is being used an example.
CJ is able to play sports and travel with his high school basketball team, but his epilepsy could surface at any time. “I wake up every morning and I pray, ‘Please don’t let nothing happen today. Please don’t let nothing happen today,’” said CJ. After prescription drugs failed to control CJ’s seizures, he began a cannabis treatment regimen in January.
Curtis Harris, CJ’s father, said,
“He’s going from having two seizures a month or one seizure a month, and now he hasn’t had any? That’s like, wow.”
But taking take a lunchtime dose of cannabis oil means CJ has to leave the school’s campus in order to take his life-saving treatment. “So I’ve got to come pick him up every day, check him out of school, bring him to the house,” said Harris.
A statement by the Houston County Board of Education reiterated school policy. “Per the Safe and Drug Free Schools federal law, the oil may not be brought onto school grounds.” Schools that allow medical marijuana on campus risk losing vital federal funding. Harris also mentioned that the private school his son was previously enrolled in allowed medical marijuana on campus.
When medical marijuana was legalized in Georgia in 2015, the program was limited to low-THC treatments reserved for patients with eight qualifying conditions. The biggest problem was access, since the law only legalized cannabis oil and did not set up any sort of regulatory agency or provide framework for a cannabis industry. Patients and parents of sick children have been forced to travel to other states to obtain cannabis medications, risking federal prosecution for drug trafficking.
Georgia state Rep. Allen Peake (R), who has spearheaded Georgia’s medical marijuana legislation, expects that the clashing of state and federal law will continue. “CJ’s case is not going to be isolated,” he said. “There are kids all over the state who are going to be facing the same issue, particularly now that autism is added to the list of qualifying conditions.” Peake has actually gone under the radar to help obtain the cannabis oil on behalf of registered medical marijuana patients in Georgia. While Peake said he would like schools to change their policies in the best interests of their students, the loss of federal funding can devastate a public school’s budget.
State bill SB 16, which passed earlier this year, expanded the number of qualifying conditions but still neglected to provide an in-state source for medical marijuana. Roughly 1700 patients are enrolled in the state program.
Even if the state manages to develop a thriving medical marijuana program that allows cannabis oil to be manufactured in the state, prohibiting medical marijuana treatment on school campuses still puts children at risk, especially those that could end a child’s life in an instant.
“It’s hard because you don’t know if this is your last breath your child is taking. You just don’t know,” said Harris.