After being seizure-free for several years, 14-year old Benjamin Wann began suffering again last Thanksgiving Day.
He subsequently had four more seizures in 14 days. Doctors, his mother said, wanted to put him back on powerful pharmaceutical drugs to treat his epilepsy.
With her son soon to begin high school, Amber Wann hesitated to put Benjamin on drugs that included dangerous side effects like depression and suicidal tendencies.
Instead, she turned to medical cannabis— specifically the non-psychoactive hemp oil extract called Charlotte's Web.
But when Wann and her husband, Brad, were reported to Child Protective Services on suspicion of abuse and neglect — after informing a school nurse Benjamin was using the extract — Wann began her campaign for a school policy to manage treatment for students using medical marijuana just as transparently as any other medical treatment would be handled.
In July, that fight paid off.
The Douglas Country Board of Education approved 6-0 on July 19 a policy aligned with state law that allows the administration of medical marijuana products, hemp oils and other cannabinoid products to qualified students on district property.
“It opens the door for parents to no longer hide from any form of cannabis as medicine for students, pitting nurses against families or vice versa,” Wann said.
The district estimates it has fewer than 40 students — out of its more than 67,000 — who will fall under the policy, which takes effect this school year, Health and Wellness Director Lisa Kantor said.
Benjamin briefly addressed the board before the vote, thanking the community for its support and saying he “looked forward to starting high school in a few weeks with new hope.”
“Our family has attended meetings, educated the district and we were heard,” said Wann, who credited Silverthorn, who was not at the July 19 meeting, and Vice President Judith Reynolds for helping to make the policy a reality.
Board member David Ray complimented the Wann family, who live in Highlands Ranch, for their perseverance.
“I'm really grateful that you have put a face to this issue,” Ray said.
According to the policy, “a student's primary caregiver (parent, guardian or medical professional) may administer medical marijuana on school property, at a school-sponsored event or on a school bus in a non-smokeable form to a student who posseses a valid recommendation for medical marijuana.”
The parent or guardian will be solely responsible for providing the marijuana and written documentation describing the product, its administration and releasing the school from any liability, the policy says. This documentation will be kept as part of the student's medical records.
“It's a good and appropriate thing," Reynolds said. "And it gives everyone involved with these kinds of issues in our community the things that they are looking for and the protections that they need, so that our students can be in school and hopefully be more healthy.”
In June, the governor signed House Bill 1373 into law, which states that school districts must provide reasonable accommodation for students who require medical cannabis. It also prohibits districts from disciplining students for being part of the state's medical marijuana program.
The bill received support from 91 out of 100 legislators at the state Capitol.
The DCSD policy closely follows the new state law.
“If you compare the statute with this policy, it tracks almost identically, including the language,” the school district's attorney, Rob Ross, said. "…where we did go off is adding the language about hemp oil products, because that is not addressed in the statute and we wanted to make sure that is more clearly stated in our policy.”
The district has also included a provision that says if federal authorities tell the district that funding would be impacted by the policy, it can be voided, Ross said.
“I don't foresee (any litigation),” he said. “This has been an effort over several years with people from across the state, and this is actually something that is happening across the country. The information that we are getting from those folks who have dealt more directly with the federal authorities is that they can't come out and say this is awesome, but they won't come down on schools or school districts for trying to do the best thing and not get in-between students, families and their medical care.”
District officials said they are still working to implement the changes and will make more information and details available to parents in coming weeks. It is not yet known if district nurses, medical professionals or administrators will undergo any additional training.
“With the passage of this policy, we are now gathering key stakeholders to ensure solid plans and procedures are in place to best serve all of our students and families,” Kantor said. “We are hopeful that we will have some developments regarding the plans and procedures by mid-to-late August.”
Since beginning treatment with cannabis, Benjamin has not only been seizure free, Wann said. He also has performed better in school, been more vocal in class and experienced myriad of other social and cognitive improvements.
Wann hopes her son’s example will make it easier for other students in similar situations to come forward about the benefits of medical marijuana.
“There are a lot of people still in hiding,” Wann said. “Hopefully, (the policy) will help to do away with the stigma.”