PIERRE, S.D. — A South Dakota panel of education standards officials has approved a policy for allowing approved adults to give medical marijuana on school grounds to children whose doctors have prescribed marijuana as a health remedy.
The policy, required by Initiated Measure 26, the medical marijuana push that voters passed last November, was given the greenlight by members of the South Dakota Board of Education Standards at a meeting on Monday, May 17 — just weeks before the medical marijuana law's effective date of July 1.
However, school officials say students won't legally access prescribed marijuana medication on public or accredited private campuses until later this year — perhaps even next year — as registration cards via the South Dakota Department of Health won't become available till this fall.
"Realistically, we don't anticipate on having any cardholders until very late this year or early next year," said Amanda LaCroix, an attorney with the Department of Education.
Medical marijuana has been prescribed to children to treat forms of epilepsy, autism and some movement disorders.
The policy adopted by the board takes cues from Colorado's medical marijuana plan, say state officials, and spells out that only a "registered designated caretaker" can administer the medical marijuana, which must be in only "non-smokable" form. Moreover, a student must have his or her registration card on file with the school, and a student cannot self-administer the treatment.
A school, according to the Department of Education's top attorney Diane Koh, could even possibly "opt out" of the program if they would stand to lose federal funding, as marijuana remains prohibited under federal law.
During public comment on the plan, Huron attorney Gerry Kaufman, formerly with the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, offered "friendly amendments" to the policy, noting that some permissive language in the policy seemed to suggest schools could opt out of allowing medical marijuana to be administered on site — in violation of the new state law.
"If they don't choose to permit [medical marijuana]," said Kaufman, "then they're choosing to deny."
Koh disagreed, saying "it is pretty clear we think that... you're not opting out of the mandatory provisions."
LaCroix added, "At the very minimum, school districts need to allow designated caregivers to come onto school grounds [to administer]."
The policy, which received unanimous approval from the seven-member board on Monday, emerged after deliberations between what Koh termed "significant stakeholders," including state Education and Health departments officials, the governor's office, school administrators, and the state activities association.
One superintendent, Huron's Terry Nebelsick, who sits on the Board of Standards, touted the plan's flexibility, noting that in Huron he'd seek to give approval to school nurses to administer medical marijuana as he wanted to limit "outside people interrupting the school day."
Nebelsick noted the nurses already administer some prescription medications that are "far more potent than any medical marijuana."
South Dakota became one of 37 states nationwide last fall to legalize medical marijuana. A push by Gov. Kristi Noem to delay the effective date by six months failed to attract significant legislative approval in the 2021 session's waning days.
Last week, a state law enforcement board adopted a plan to prohibit public safety officers, including 911 dispatchers, from using medical marijuana.