TRENTON, NJ. 2 May, 2015 — Roger and Lora Barbour have been battling the Burlington County school district since last August to allow their daughter to consume a CBD-rich cannabis oil in her school lunch. 16-year-old Genevieve “Genny” Barbour has suffered from epilepsy and autism since she was three months old, and a medical marijuana prescription successfully keeps her seizures in check.
The family described their struggle in a story reported Friday by NJ Advance Media, explaining that their daughter was finally seizure free after a doctor prescribed cannabis oil, which she takes multiple times each day. The Barbours are among a growing group of parents throughout the nation who have turned to cannabis in desperation, as a last-resort treatment for their seizure-stricken children. The Barbours say that in only nine months edible cannabis appears to have achieved what brain surgery, dozens of pharmaceuticals and a restricted diet failed to do for Genny. “There has been a total change in my daughter,” Lora Barbour said. “She is more of a person.”
Cannabis has helped Genny to be more attentive, verbal, and calm enough to enjoy simple pastimes like watching Disney cartoons and listening to music. If the teen misses her dose she can become irritable and aggressive. The family said hat on her worst school days, her arms would be covered with self-inflicted bruises from trying to escape a chair used to restrain her. Despite this, Maple Shade school district won’t permit Genny to take her medication on school grounds because it violates federal laws for drug free school zones.
Last year, the Burlington County school district turned down a request from Roger and Lora Barbour to allow their daughter to consume medical marijuana oil that could be mixed into her lunch. The state Department of Education rejected the family’s appeal and ruled in the district’s favor. In an unprecedented lawsuit, the Barbours are now appealing that decision and the federal law that classifies marijuana as a tier-1 drug.
“To me it’s a prescription,” Lora Barbour told the NJ Advance website. “To me it’s an order from a doctor that gave my daughter a daughter a prescription to have medicine at school.”
Roger Barbour argues marijuana is not as dangerous nor addictive as other substances in the group like LSD or peyote, he told the website. “They have no medical benefit and high risk of addiction,” he said. “Marijuana has obviously been proven scientifically to be outside the scope of those drugs.”
Last week the Barbours rejected a compromise settlement offer from the school board to allow Lora Barbour to enter the Larc School in Bellmawr, a private school that serves children with disabilities, take Genny off school grounds, give her the oil, then return her to school.
“Unfortunately the proposed accommodation has to be rejected due to safety and behavior concerns,” according to a letter from Roger Barbour to the board. If his wife were to drive Genny off campus “and then attempt to return her to school, it is very likely (Genny) would exhibit horrible maladpative behaviors (a tantrum),” Barbour’s letter said. “This would likely cause further safety concerns” for both his wife and daughter. In addition Barbour pointed out that if his wife drove on campus with the cannabis oil, as the school board has suggested, she would be violating the Drug Free School Act – the act the school claims as the basis of its decision to deny her lunch-time dose. “It seems to me that the Larc school and Maple Shade School district are attempting to pick and choose which parts of the New Jersey Controlled Substances Act that they want to observe.”
Barbour wrote that he would accept “nothing less” than allowing his wife to enter the building to administer the drug to their daughter. ( The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act expressly protects school nurses from criminal charges. )
The Barbours expect their battle to wind up in federal court. Roger Barbour argues that the school district has violated his daughter’s legal rights as a disabled person to receive an education. Her prescribed cannabis oil calms the “firestorm in her head” and allows her to learn, he said.
Lora Barbour said some school officials and parents are avoiding a showdown by using an unspoken “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. She says she knows of parents who secretly mix cannabis oil into their child’s lunch, or are working quietly with supportive teachers and school administrators who “look the other way.” The family said they debated hiding the oil in Genny’s lunch, but they “wanted to do the right thing,” according to Roger Barbour. “It boggles my mind — we can’t be the only parents in the country willing to challenge this.”
Although the Barbours may be the first to sue, families across the country are pushing schools to decide whether prescribed medical marijuana may be administered on-campus. Schools are pushing back, and in some cases, state lawmakers are intervening. On Monday Colorado passed “Jack’s Law,” a bill granting a waiver for children to take non-smokeable forms of marijuana at school. The bill is named for Jack Splitt, a wheelchair-bound 14-year-old spastic quadriplegic who suffers from cerebral palsy and the painful muscular disorder, dystonia, and who needs a ventilator to breathe. In February, a nurse at his high school peeled a cannabis skin patch off of his arm and confiscated a vial of cannabis oil from the personal nurse who attends school with him, prompting lawmakers to act. The Maine legislature is also considering a similar bill.
The issue could be settled if Congress and the Obama administration reclassify cannabis as a beneficial drug worthy of study. But until that happens, the Barbours say they will not back down now that they have seen a happier child. Roger Barbour said Genny walked up to him last month and said, “I love you.” Her ability to speak more than one word at a time moved him as much as the feeling she expressed.