School Board wants to keep marijuana that looks like candy away from kids

A marijuana plant
A marijuana plant

As Florida prepares for the arrival of medical marijuana, the Miami-Dade School Board is urging lawmakers to keep cannabis away from school children — unless they have a prescription.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the board voted unanimously to call on the Florida Legislature to ban medical marijuana dispensaries within 2,500 feet of schools if they sell anything other than the drug, such as pipes and other paraphernalia, and to prohibit medical marijuana products made to look like candy. The board also called for a ban on medical marijuana on school property without supervision, adding the three proposed restrictions to its 2017 State Legislative Platform.

The amendment legalizing medical marijuana passed with broad support in the Nov. 8 election, but the Florida Department of Health has until July 2017 to decide on regulations and until October to start issuing identification cards for patients and registering growers and dispensaries.

“It’s always important to be proactive and if you see this is something that’s coming your way, you have to have a discussion and you have to have a game plan about the changes this will bring for our school district and our employees,” said Martin Karp, the School Board member who proposed the item.

Karp said he is not opposed to medical marijuana, but wants the school district to plan ahead to prevent some of the negative impacts reported in other states where marijuana has been legalized for medicinal or recreational purposes.

Karp cited research from AAA showing an increase in fatal crashes involving marijuana in Washington state after the drug was legalized there, and an increase in the number of young children visiting emergency rooms after ingesting marijuana in Colorado — another state where the drug is legal — as two examples of possible negative impacts.

Karp also cited a Colorado law enforcement report that quotes school counselors and resource officers who say they’ve seen an increase in marijuana-related incidents at their schools since the drug was legalized.

Ben Pollara, the campaign manager at United For Care, a political committee that advocated for the legalization of medical marijuana in Florida, said he agrees with the School Board that medical marijuana, like any other medical treatment, should only be administered under supervision at schools. He also agreed that there should be restrictions on the packaging and marketing of edible marijuana products.

“I don’t think there should be anything that can even be interpreted as something that can be marketed or even made appealing to children when it comes to the packaging of any products containing medical marijuana,” he said.

In states where the drug is legal, marijuana has been sold in edible forms like gummy worms and gummy bears that critics argue are too “kid-friendly” and increase the danger that children will accidentally ingest the drug. Colorado banned some edible marijuana products shaped like animals, fruit and people earlier this year.

Pollara said he disagrees with the School Board’s proposed restriction on how close dispensaries that sell paraphernalia can be to schools, however.

“I’m not saying there shouldn’t be certain geographical restrictions as relates to schools, but 2,500 feet in and of itself is onerous and the distinction between two different types of medical marijuana businesses is largely irrelevant,” he said.

In addition to the proposed restrictions on medical marijuana, the School Board called on Superintendent Alberto Carvalho to work with the Florida Association of District School Superintendents to create a task force to study the issue. Carvalho supports the School Board’s proposals and co-wrote a recent editorial about the recommendations with Karp.

Karp said school districts still need to answer a lot of questions before medical marijuana becomes a reality in the state, such as where and how to administer prescription medical marijuana for students, and what to do about district employees with prescriptions who operate machinery or drive school buses.