AUGUSTA — Melissa Burnham is allowed to send drugs such as Ritalin, a stimulant, or Valium, a sedative, to school with her 8-year-old son, as long as he has a prescription.

But she cannot send the medicine that best treats Noah’s sometimes-severe epileptic seizures.

“When he has seizures, cannabis is what stops them,” Burnham said.

She was forced to pull Noah out of school recently and arrange for a tutor to come to their house. Not because the school didn’t want to help, she said, but because the law doesn’t allow cannabis.

Burnham, who lives in East Dixfield, shared her story Thursday before a public hearing before the Legislature’s Education Committee on a bill that would allow schools to provide accommodations for children who use medical marijuana.

“He’s missing out on so many things, not being in school,” Burnham said of her son, who receives a tincture of cannabis to treat his symptoms.


Several other parents testified in support of the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, and co-sponsored by a wide range of lawmakers from both major parties.

Sanderson, in introducing her bill, said she doesn’t see why schools can allow all other prescription drugs on their grounds but not marijuana.

As drafted, her bill would do two things.

It would prohibit school boards from banning medical marijuana – in nonsmokable form – on school grounds for any student who is a certified patient.

It also would clarify that students could not be denied eligibility to attend school because they require medical marijuana.

It became clear during the hearing that a major concern is the disconnect between state and federal law. While Maine has a well-established state medical marijuana program that is growing every year, marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law.


Scott Gagnon, representing the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine, said the legal confusion is his major concern.

“This would put schools in a tricky position, particularly if those schools receive federal funding, which many do,” he said.

Parents like Burnham, though, said that having medicine available for immediate use can be life-saving.

Susan Meehan, whose 12-year-old daughter, Cyndimae, has a severe seizure disorder called Dravet syndrome, has no doubt that medical marijuana has saved her daughter’s life.

If a seizure starts, a small amount of marijuana oil, often called kief, can be administered orally to stop the seizure.

Meehan said she doesn’t want to risk her daughter’s health by sending her to school without her medicine.


So she home-schools, reluctantly.

“She doesn’t understand why she can’t go to school like everyone else,” Meehan said. “I try to explain to her that there is nothing I can do.”

Meehan knows of teenage patients who are sneaking medicine into school.

“They shouldn’t have to,” she said.

She urged lawmakers to “fix this.”

Samantha Brown of South Berwick has a 3-year-old daughter, Kaylee, who uses cannabis to treat Dravet syndrome. Kaylee is not in school yet, but Brown said she can’t even bring her daughter to a function at the school her son attends – unless she leaves the medicine at home.


But Brown won’t take that risk.

“It’s seems like this is something that should be easy to support,” she said.

In addition to her own daughter, Brown represented dozens of parents through the advocacy group Maine Children for Cannabis Therapy. She didn’t know how many patients might be affected by the proposed legislation. Maine no longer requires medical marijuana patients to register, so the actual number is unknown.

Robert Hasson, deputy executive director of Maine School Management Association, said his organization supports the bill but he would like some clarification on whether federal law will create problems.

Dick Durost, representing the Maine Principals Association, questioned whether the bill would simply allow parents to bring the medicine when needed, or whether it would allow school officials, or even the students, to keep the medicine on hand.

Lawmakers on the Education Committee mostly listened and asked questions of those who testified and stopped short of indicating whether they support the measure.

The committee will hold a work session on the bill at a later date before voting on its recommendation.

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