Stripped of any additional context, the idea of a 5-year-old girl with epilepsy fighting for access to medication at school would seem ludicrous. Unfortunately, in the case of Santa Rosa’s Brooke Adams and her mother, Jana, context is everything.
Brooke suffers from a rare form of the disease known as Dravet Syndrome, which leaves her prone to frequent seizures. After exhausting a range of traditional treatments without success, Brooke’s mother found that a THC-rich cannabis oil administered to her daughter’s gums usually stops a seizure within three minutes. Jana Adams also regularly gives Brooke a CBD compound as a preventative measure, but it’s the THC oil that has led the family into a legal battle with widespread ramifications. The Rincon Valley Union School District has refused to allow Brooke to begin kindergarten as administrators are unwilling to keep the young girl’s THC oil on campus. The issue is not whether Brooke takes a medication with cannabis, but rather what federal funding restrictions the district could face if they acted in defiance of national law.
Rincon Valley’s assistant superintendent, Cathy Myhers, has offered public commentary that seems to indicate her desire to see an outcome where Brooke is allowed to matriculate at the district. Owing to her inability to comment directly on matters currently in progress, Myhers has spoken about the subject in general terms, telling the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, “I hope that we will receive guidance on how to best serve the needs of students who require medical cannabis on a public school campus, without breaking the law and jeopardizing our state and federal funding.”
The district’s current suggestion — that Brooke be homeschooled — was not satisfactory to Adams, who has now taken to the press and the courts to provide her daughter the same educational experience as her peers. (Efforts to reach Adams were unsuccessful.)
At the crux of the matter are several California laws that enforce the separation of cannabis and schools. One — established as part of Proposition 64 — prohibits cannabis from being within 1,000 feet of public schools. While sensible in the abstract, such laws ultimately only serve to reinforce the idea that cannabis is an illicit substance, essentially demeaning its value as medicine. No one would ever make a law prohibiting the possession of EpiPens within a certain radius of a school, but until the public perception surrounding cannabis evolves to the point where it’s viewed as a medicine instead of the equivalent to alcohol or far more dangerous substances like methamphetamine, individuals like Brooke Adams will remain stuck in a legal limbo. California’s SB 1127, which is currently under consideration in the state Assembly, may rectify this issue within certain parameters.
The fact that the U.S. finds cannabis to be a bigger problem than, say, Adderall — a popular, often-abused, yet perfectly legal ADHD drug — indicates that the impetus for shunning cannabis as a medical option in the classroom has little to do with the risks it would impose and everything to do with the fact that it originates from beyond the grasp of major pharmaceutical companies.
At present, several other states where cannabis is legal have opted to embrace the needs of students like Brooke Adams. Maine, New Jersey, and Colorado have all made exceptions for children with doctor-verified medical-marijuana needs to attend public school — although they are now at risk of having federal funding and grants withheld. In short, it’s a risky solution for a problem that has no all-encompassing answer, short of cannabis becoming legal at the national level.
Last Monday, Brooke Adams start- ed kindergarten. She is currently able to attend school thanks to a temporary court order that will last until the judge in her case makes a final ruling. That decision is expected within the next two months, at which point Brooke will either set a precedent for other children by being permanently permitted to receive medical marijuana in the classroom, or her mother will begin the process of appealing the ruling. In either case, it seems evident that what happens to Brooke Adams will serve as a bellwether for how California rectifies its conflicting positions on the role of cannabis.
A Mormon who doesn’t drink alcohol, Jana Adams has shown a fierce devotion to her daughter’s rights to a quality education and to medication critical to her well-being. That alone is an encouraging sign of the changing attitudes surrounding cannabis. While it’s unlikely this issue will be resolved anytime soon, it is a vital step on the long road toward acceptance and access.