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This school year is the first that school nurses can administer medical cannabis to students at school, but families may have to wait months to see the change in schools.

The new legislation was one of a handful of marijuana-related laws passed by the Virginia legislature this year. Though the law affecting schools went into effect July 1, school nurses might not start giving approved students medical cannabis until the end of the year.

The change made Virginia the fourth state to allow nurses to administer students’ medical cannabis at school, The News Leader reported in February. The commonwealth first approved medical cannabis for patients with epilepsy in 2015 and expanded the program in 2018 to include any diagnosed health condition, with a recommendation from a registered medical practitioner.

Five dispensaries — known in Virginia as pharmaceutical processors — are set to open across the state by the end of this year, including one in Staunton owned by Illinois-based cannabis company PharmaCann.

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Under the new law, school health care providers can’t be prosecuted for possessing, distributing or administering medical cannabis to registered students “in accordance with a policy adopted by the local school board.”

“Virginia students and their families depend on new, safely produced and regulated cannabidiol and THC-A oils to treat a host of potentially debilitating conditions,” said Virginia Sen. Glen Sturtevant when he introduced the bill to the Senate floor.

The law also directs the Virginia Department of Health Professions and Department of Education to create a standardized form intended to help Virginia’s school divisions administer the products safely.

The form will be filled out by the practitioner who recommends cannabis products for the student and by the facility that dispenses them. It will include information about dosing and other details, the law says.

However, the form isn’t ready yet. The two departments are “currently finalizing” the document, said Diane Powers, director of communications for the Department of Health Professions.

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At the time of publication, the three local school boards had not passed policies related to the new law. Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia’s National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said she’s not surprised school boards haven’t taken action yet since the form isn’t available.

Plus, patients won’t be able to buy medical cannabis products in Virginia for several months. After the pharmaceutical processors open in December 2019, they will still need to grow plants and develop products, a process that could take between three and six months, Powers said.

“I can see how there are students sort of left in the lurch … who are obtaining medicine either from other states or from online sources,” Pedini said. “Families are left waiting for this form and having to navigate this process on their own.”

Ten people under the age of 18 had received medical cannabis registrations in Virginia as of Aug. 27, according to the Department of Health Professions. 

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Since this legislation doesn’t include any mandates, school divisions could hypothetically prohibit nurses from administering the medicine to students, Pedini said. Similar situations have resulted in lawsuits against school districts in other states. 

Medical cannabis isn’t technically legal in Virginia, but state law allows an affirmative defense for registered patients, caregivers or guardians and processors — meaning a registered patient who was stopped by police for having cannabis oil, for example, could show their registration for legal defense.

Patients who want to purchase medical cannabis need to first receive a certification from a registered practitioner, then another from the state Board of Pharmacy.

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