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Aztec school board approves medical cannabis policy for students

Sam Ribakoff
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC – The Aztec Municipal School District's Board of Education approved a policy on Dec. 17 that allows the administration of medical cannabis to students with certification from a medical doctor and who are enrolled in the New Mexico Department of Health’s Medical Cannabis Program.

The approved policy will not allow Aztec schools to store prescribed medical cannabis. Instead, parents of students with prescriptions who are enrolled in the New Mexico Department of Health’s Medical Cannabis Program will have to bring the medication onto school campuses to administer it to their child.

The move brings the district into compliance with New Mexico Senate Bill 204.

Aztec Superintendent Kirk Carpenter discusses the district's medical cannabis policy at a school board meeting in Aztec on Dec. 17, 2019.

Signed into law by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in April of 2019, the bill mandates that school districts in New Mexico allow students access to medically prescribed cannabis on school grounds, as long as it is not administered via smoke or vapor and not administered or possessed by the student.

“I know this is very controversial, but that’s why we brought this forward in the way we did,” said Aztec Superintendent Kirk Carpenter, “We might not feel like we want to drive 55, but that’s the law, and this is the law.”

A similar policy was debated and ultimately rejected by the school board in November. A slightly revised policy was reintroduced on Dec. 17.        

“It’s opening Pandora’s Box,” said Board Member Wayne Ritter, concerned that the district might be in danger of losing federal anti-drug funding from the policy, “Shame on our Legislature.”

In a phone call after the meeting on Dec. 18, 2019, Superintendent Carpenter was adamant that the district would not lose federal dollars.

“There’s no reason to be concerned, we’re not going to lose that,” Carpenter said.

Director of Exceptional Programs for Aztec Municipal Schools Jonathan Acrai, who helped devise the approved policy, stood with Health Coordinator of Exceptional Programs for Aztec Municipal Schools Erin Raykiewice and talked about needing to “do right by students,” especially those suffering from seizures, chronic pain, severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder who have been deemed by medical professionals to benefit from medical cannabis.

Aztec School Board Members from left to right; Wayne Ritter, Fran Dobey and Roger Collins discuss the district's medical cannabis policy at a school board meeting in Aztec on Dec. 18, 2019.

More:Aztec moves forward on medical marijuana ordinance

Raykiewice mentioned that most medically prescribed cannabis included higher concentrations of CBD, the medically viable component of medical cannabis, and lower concentrations of THC, the psychoactive component of medical cannabis.

“When thinking about the policy as it stands and thinking about the different laws that are competing with it, I think that it is a policy that does right by those kids and our community,” said Arcai on Dec. 18 during a phone call.

Arcai said that in his role at the school districts he was approached by one family with a child who was prescribed medical cannabis who wanted to understand how to provide the medication to their child within school rules.

Director of Exceptional Programs for Aztec Municipal Schools Jonathan Acrai, left, and Health Coordinator of Exceptional Programs for Aztec Municipal Schools Erin Raykiewice, right, discuss the district's medical cannabis policy at a school board meeting in Aztec on Dec. 17, 2019.

More:Aztec approves zoning for medical marijuana dispensaries

Before the final vote, Board Member Roger Collins said he was neither “pro or anti-medical cannabis,” but that he worried about students who needed the medication for seizures or chronic pain being denied access to it by the district. 

The policy was approved by the majority of the board, with one dissenting vote by Board Member Fran Dobey.

The approved policy included a provision providing Naloxone, better known as the brand name Narcan, a medication used to stop an opioid overdose, to nurses at both high schools in the district and Koogler Middle School.

Sam Ribakoff is a visual journalist for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-333-5283 or via email at sribakoff@daily-times.com.

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