School’s Ban on Medical Marijuana OK Under Federal Disability Law

September 11, 2019Alerts

A federal court in New Mexico has held that school entities do not have to permit the presence or use of medical marijuana on school grounds under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504). Notably, this is one of the first federal cases to provide a ruling on the issue of prescription medical marijuana on school property.

To avoid potential accommodation issues, school officials and entities should understand whether their state’s laws permit any specific conditions that allow the use of medical marijuana on school grounds.

Albuquerque Public Schools v. Sledge

A student who was qualified to use medical marijuana for seizures under New Mexico state law was denied permission to administer it on school grounds. Upon being told this by the school, the parents requested that the school district provide homebound or in-the-home instruction. The district refused and offered that, in the event of a seizure, the parent could remove the student from school grounds to administer the medical marijuana. The parent brought claims under the IDEA and Section 504 asserting that the school district acted improperly under both statutes in the handling of this medical marijuana issue.

The federal court rejected both claims. First, under the IDEA, the court explained that state law did not permit the use of medical marijuana on school grounds and that the IDEA does not “require a state educational agency to pursue legislative amendments of any kind, much less a legislative amendment permitting school to commit a federal crime.” Moving to Section 504, the court explained that the actions of the school officials were not based on the student’s disabled status, but were rather a reflex to the substance of cannabis and the laws that prohibit its possession and use. Additionally, the court noted that the IDEA and Section 504 cannot be read to require schools to permit or accommodate the possession and use of marijuana, which federal laws specifically prohibit.

However, it should be noted that special education hearing officers in California and Florida have reached a different conclusion from the one given by the court.

Looking Ahead

It is unclear at this point whether other courts will follow the lead of the Sledge case, but the New Mexico federal court's ruling provides a fairly clear takeaway: schools are not violating the IDEA or Section 504 by refusing to allow medical marijuana on their premises given that their state law and federal law prohibit its use on school grounds accordingly. As a result, schools may be able to refuse such requests without running afoul of these two accommodation statutes.

School officials and entities should review state law and have their counsel weigh potential liabilities on this issue. States like Pennsylvania do not currently address this medical marijuana issue and New Jersey and Delaware law specifically permit medical marijuana on school grounds under certain conditions, despite the federal prohibition.

For any questions about this alert or the case in question, please contact Timothy E. Gilsbach at 610.397.2206 or at [email protected], or any member of Fox Rothschild’s Education Practice Group.