CHICAGO— Illinois on Friday said it won’t get in the way of an 11-year-old girl whose parents want her to be allowed to use medical marijuana at school to regulate seizures, despite state laws that prohibit the use of prescription cannabis on public school grounds.
Tom Iopollo, an assistant attorney general for the state, assured attorneys for the suburban Chicago school district and the parents of Ashley Surin that Illinois would not prosecute the child or any school officials who may administer medical cannabis products to Ashley.
Ashley has suffered from seizures for years. She was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 2, and subsequent chemotherapy triggered debilitating seizures and brain trauma that she continues to experience as an adolescent, said her father Jim Surin. For months last year, Ashley had to use a wheelchair after hitting her head during a particularly bad seizure.
Traditional medicines had limited success in helping Ashley with the seizures — she would suffer one to three seizures per day. Late last year, a physician prescribed a ketogenic (high fat, low carbohydrate) diet and medical marijuana for Ashley — what her parents say is proving to be a “golden cure.”
The state attorney general’s office set out their position at a brief court hearing two days after Ashley’s parents filed a federal lawsuit against Illinois and the Schaumburg School District 54. They took the legal action after the district said it could not allow the child to wear a medical cannabis patch or use cannabis oil drops prescribed by her physicians.
“This is not just going to help her but hopefully other kids down the road who have to take cannabis at school for a disease ... they need to treat,” said the child’s mother Maureen Surin. “It’s not a drug. It’s a medicine.”
“It’s a law that’s antiquated,” she said of the state's medical marijuana rules. “It hasn’t caught up with reality.”
Illinois passed a medical marijuana law in 2014, but the statute prohibits the consumption or possession of cannabis on public school property. The family argued in the lawsuit that the state’s medical marijuana law as written denies the child due process and violates the federally mandated Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In the month since she began using a cannabis patch, she has only suffered one major seizure, he father said.
“She’s more responsive,” Surin said. “She’s more energetic. She speaks in longer sentences. She is more aware of her surroundings.”
Darcy Kriha, an attorney for the school district, said the school system felt it was in a bind because of how the law was written. The district, with more than 15,000 elementary school students, helps more than 1,700 of its students administer prescriptions and school officials are confident they can safely assist Ashley as needed with medical cannabis, Kriha said.
Kriha credited Ashley’s family for pressing her case and the state’s attorney general’s office for showing flexibility. Ultimately, she said, state legislators need to come up with a permanent fix.
“As long as the district can be reassured that there will be no criminal or civil prosecution of the school nurse and district personnel, it satisfies the school district for the time-being,” Kriha said. “The school would like to see legislative change so just not Ashley can benefit, but other students can as well.”
The issue in Illinois is somewhat analogous to a situation that surfaced in Colorado, where a public school student in 2015 was prohibited from using a doctor-prescribed cannabis patch.
The student, Jack Splitt, successfully lobbied the state legislature to amend Colorado’s medical marijuana law to permit its use in that state's schools.
Colorado amended its law in 2015. Jack, who had cerebral palsy, died in 2016.
Follow USA TODAY's Aamer Madhani on Twitter: @AamerISmad