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News (Media Awareness Project) - US AZ: West Valley Schools Eye Outgrowth Of Medical Pot
Title:US AZ: West Valley Schools Eye Outgrowth Of Medical Pot
Published On:2011-12-12
Source:Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Fetched On:2011-12-14 06:01:52

Law Brings Job and Education Concerns

Amid ongoing legal battles over Arizona's new medical-marijuana law,
school districts face several conundrums.

Can school employees be medical-marijuana cardholders, as state law
allows, even though school districts receive federal funding and
federal law considers marijuana illegal?

How do districts determine if an employee is under the influence of
marijuana, which state law prohibits?

And, should the new law affect how schools teach drug prevention to

Dawn McKinley, a parent in the Deer Valley Unified School District,
said it does not bother her that some teachers may have
medical-marijuana cards.

"I don't think it'll compromise instruction," she said. "But I don't
know if I'd be thrilled if I found out my kids' teacher was taking it
to school."

This fall, the Peoria Unified School District adjusted its policy to
say it would not discriminate against current and prospective
employees because they're cardholders. The board also clarified that
being a cardholder does not exempt employees from bans on the drug on
school-district property or being impaired while working.

The neighboring Deer Valley district considered the same policy, drawn
up by an organization that provides policy advice to Arizona school
boards, but ultimately held off on making a change.

"I don't think the policy provided any clarity, it just perpetuates
confusion," Deer Valley board member Rob Edmund said.

Since the law took effect in April, Arizona has issued more than
13,000 medical-marijuana cards and given almost 11,000 people
permission to grow the drug themselves.

Pot dispensaries, however, remain in legal limbo. Permits for as many
as 126 dispensaries statewide have been on hold since May when Arizona
called on the U.S. District Court to clarify whether its medical-pot
law conflicts with federal drug statutes prohibiting the use, sale or
cultivation of marijuana. A hearing in the case is set for Monday.

The case is among six ongoing legal disputes over the law, and some
outcomes could drastically change the medical marijuana landscape in

School funding effect?

Schools are concerned about the law's implications as it relates to
federal regulations, Edmund said.

School districts are government agencies that depend on federal aid,
so "how does that play out to schools that are federally funded?" he

Ryan Hurley, attorney at Rose Law Group in Scottsdale who represents
medical marijuana dispensaries, the issue lies with whether the
federal government has the right to override state authority, or in
this case, Arizona's medical-pot law.

"It's a valid concern," Hurley said. "Anytime that you do anything
that could possibly be perceived as contrary to federal law ... you
run risk that you lose federal funding."

The state has requested the federal court to give its opinion on the
matter, which may clarify the law's impact on state and local
employees as well as other government agencies, such as schools.

Judging under influence

The new law says employers cannot discriminate against cardholders,
but it also clarifies that cardholders can't possess, sell or use
marijuana on school-district property.

The law gives employers the right to discipline cardholders if they
are under the influence in the workplace. However, the law says
cardholders can't be punished if a drug-test result shows an
"insufficient concentration to cause impairment."

That leaves employers, including school districts, wondering how that
is measured.

Arizona has determined that blood alcohol content over 0.08
constitutes intoxication, but the state hasn't declared similar
metrics for marijuana. Edmund argues that ambiguity leaves employers
in a vulnerable position.

Deer Valley does not now drug-test employees when hired or otherwise.
Bus drivers are the exception.

Peoria does not do pre-employment drug screening, either. But Peoria
can test bus drivers and any other employee suspected of being under
the influence.

"That's an issue that is being dealt with around the country," Hurley

The problem is largely a lack of research, he said. It hasn't been
necessary because, until the mid-1990s when California became the
first state to allow medical marijuana, the drug was illegal everywhere.

"I would imagine if our law doesn't get overruled then at some point
our Legislature would have to take that up," Hurley said.

Prevention lessons?

Educators must also consider whether to change the way drug-prevention
programs are taught.

Programs now tell students that marijuana is an illegal and dangerous
drug. Deer Valley and Peoria officials say instruction could be
slightly tweaked to discuss marijuana as a prescription drug, legal
under certain circumstances but not without health risks.

Neither district expects any major overhauls immediately. Peoria board
President Hal Borhauer said it's too early to tell whether such
changes are necessary. He said it may not be wise to teach the
differences of when certain drugs are and are not OK before students
are mature enough to understand the distinction.

"I don't think we should be telling them that there's a way they can
get around it," Borhauer said. "They're not good for your body."

With prescription-drug abuse on the rise nationally, critics say
medical marijuana only adds another layer of confusion for youth.

Medical marijuana laws

Slightly more than half of voters passed Proposition 203, the Arizona
Medical Marijuana Act, in November 2010.

The law went into effect in April, enabling approved applicants to
obtain a medical marijuana card for treatment of chronic and
debilitating conditions, such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis
C and Alzheimer's disease.

Cardholders must be at least 18, unless a child has parental consent.
The state also gives permits to individuals for growing pot, under
certain circumstances.

Should the state ever lift its suspension on issuing dispensary
permits, as many as 126 pot dispensaries could open throughout Arizona
within specific geographic boundaries.
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