A federal judge in Illinois says an 11-year-old girl with leukemia should be allowed to use medical marijuana at school. After a hearing in federal court on Friday, the judge decided that the girl’s suburban Chicago school must let her use medical marijuana to treat her seizures, which are a lingering side-effect of the extensive chemotherapy she endured to combat leukemia.
The announcement came just two days after the girl’s parents — Jim and Maureen Surin — sued the school district and the state for refusing to let their daughter Ashley use her medication on school grounds. Although Illinois legalized medical marijuana in 2013, state law forbids anyone from possessing or consuming cannabis at school — even if it’s for medicinal use.
That violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Surin family argued in the lawsuit, which the judge has resolved by ordering school officials to administer droplets of cannabis oil to the Surins’ sixth-grader.
“No one’s saying she wants to fire up a bong in math class,” Judge John Robert Blakey said during the hearing.
The decision is a huge win for Ashley Surin, who suffered debilitating seizures every day until she started using cannabis. Without it, she wouldn’t be able to attend school with her peers.
“She can think better, walk better, talk better,” Maureen Surin said during the hearing. “Her brain used to be like in a cloud. Now she can think clearer, she’s more alert, she can interact, and she seems like she can now go back to school and learn and not be in a cloud [as] on all those previous medicines.”
Judge Blakey’s decision is also a major win for medical marijuana patients who are still struggling against social stigmas around their medication.
“What people seem to misunderstand here is that medical marijuana is a prescription like any other drug,” said Steven Glink, the family’s attorney. “Prohibiting it in school would be the same as prohibiting other medications such as Ritalin, Adderall or Concerta.”
Despite this victory, the fight to change public opinion toward marijuana will continue in Illinois and across the country. Judge Blakey’s decision only applies to Ashley Surin, so lawmakers will need to adjust their regulations to make sure other kids can use medicinal cannabis on school grounds if necessary.
Meanwhile, Maureen Surin already has her sights set on another fight: dismantling the federal laws that prevent her from carrying Ashley’s medical marijuana across state lines on a family trip to Disneyland.