How California School Districts are Addressing Marijuana Legalization

How California School Districts are Addressing Marijuana Legalization

We dispatched ADAMS ESQ staff to go undercover and investigate how school districts are addressing the effect of new marijuana laws on students, particularly those with special needs. What we found may surprise you!

California law now allows adults 21 and older to use, carry and grow marijuana (cannabis, weed, pot, etc.). Adults 18 or older can buy marijuana for medicinal use with a doctor’s written recommendation. Recreational marijuana use is prohibited on all school campuses and at all school events.

Parents may be confused as to how marijuana legalization impacts children with special needs. Are school districts more lenient in disciplining students who are caught smoking pot? Are there any restrictions on the use of medicinal marijuana on campus? At off-campus school-related events? Are there special protections for students with IEPs who are caught using marijuana? In the absence of any clear guidance from the California Department of Education, we decided to find answers for ourselves. ADAMS ESQ staff posing as concerned parents (which was easy, since they really are concerned parents) contacted numerous California school districts and requested all written policies regarding marijuana use.

Among other things, here is what we found:

1. Most school districts have no written policies regarding marijuana use. These districts, such as Antioch Unified School District, at best have dated policies that prohibit undefined “controlled substances”. School policies do not address the impact of marijuana laws on children with special needs, such as whether medical marijuana can be administered on-campus, whether a school nurse can administer medical marijuana, acceptable forms of medical marijuana (e.g. edibles, oils, liquids, capsules or topical cream products), or whether “compassionate use” or other disability-related marijuana use violates school disciplinary codes . Nor do these districts explain the student’s right to a “manifestation determination” review in order to determine whether or not the marijuana use is related to his or her disability (or suspected disability).

2. Many school districts still have “zero tolerance” policies that date back as far as the 1980’s and 90’s. Benicia Unified School District’s written policy for example, mandates “Police Contact” and possible expulsion for relatively minor use of “any controlled substance or intoxicant of any kind.” Mt. Diablo Unified School District’s policy requires expulsion “except for the first offense for the possession of not more than one avoirdupois ounce of marijuana, other than concentrated cannabis.” (We’ll let you Google “avoirdupois”.)

3. Some school districts, such as Liberty Union, have “positive intervention” policies that focus on education (like the DARE program), prevention, intervention, counseling, parental involvement, medical referral, and police referral in the handling of incidents in the schools involving the possession, sale, or use of marijuana. But note, students remain subject to suspension or expulsion.

4. Several school districts, including Oakland Unified School District and Los Angeles Unified, have relatively new and very comprehensive “restorative justice” policies developed in compliance with discipline reform laws and in anticipation of marijuana legalization.

An Oakland Unified source clarified that if a student is in possession of a personal use amount of marijuana, has paraphernalia such as a blunt wrap, vaping device, pipe, etc., then the student will be offered intervention coaching or mental health services in lieu of suspension. However, if the student is found to be distributing marijuana on school campuses, then the district will exercise discipline measures necessary (including expulsion) to protect other students. For an excellent resource guide, check out the new Parent Guide to Preventing Underage Marijuana Use, by the Oakland Unified TUPE program. This comprehensive parent guide is also available in Spanish.

One Los Angles Unified administrator, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained that smoking marijuana on campus is now basically treated like smoking a cigarette. According to the district’s internal disciplinary “tip sheet”, individual school principals have discretion with respect to discipline except where the student is selling marijuana on campus or at a school event (in which case the principal mustrecommend expulsion). Depending on the amount of marijuana, the principal will convene a parent/teacher conference, and refer the student to individual counseling and drug education/counseling.

Parent Tips:

  • Know your rights. School district marijuana policies can be inconsistent or even nonexistent. Obtain your school district’s official, written marijuana and controlled substance policy now, even if you do not suspect your child of medicinal or recreational use.  Start with your school principal as she generally has the authority to impose or recommend disciplinary measures.
  • Determine whether your district applies a “zero tolerance”, “positive intervention” or “restorative justice” model.  Review the school policies carefully with your child to ensure she understands them.
  • Document your child’s disability-related needs if you believe that he may require medical marijuana (consider a doctor’s recommendation) or is self-medicating.
  • Demand a manifestation determination review if your child has an IEP, 504 Plan or any suspected disability, to determine if her marijuana use is related to the disability. Bring an experienced advocate with you to the manifestation determination meeting.
  • If your school district does not have a “restorative justice” program, consider working with other parent groups such as the PTA, to help develop one.
  • Keep in mind that the sale of marijuana (in any form) is strictly prohibited on school campus and at school events and will likely result in immediate expulsion regardless of the school district’s positive intervention policies.
  • Watch out for edibles. Recently, students in a San Francisco middle school were hospitalized after eating marijuana edibles that looked like candy strips. All forms of marijuana (including liquids, creams, tinctures, vape oil, etc.) are banned from school grounds and events. Even drug paraphernalia, such as bongs and vape pens, should never be taken on campus.
  • Understand the law and how it might impact your child.  Marijuana purchase, possession, distribution and use are still illegal under federal law and students with a marijuana conviction are not eligible for federal financial aid for college.


1.  It is illegal to administer any kind of medical marijuana on school grounds or at off-campus school activities.  However, SB 1127 is a proposed new law being considered to allow the on-campus administration of medical marijuana for children with special needs.

Back by Popular Demand:

Ms. Adams will be presenting an encore presentation on, “The Top 5 IEP Mistakes and How to Avoid them”, at the Support For Families with Disabilities Resource Fair on Saturday, April 7, 2018 at 11:00 A.M.  It will be located at the John O’Connell High School, 2355 Folsom Street, San Francisco CA 94110.  For more information please email: or call us at 800-785-6713.

Save the Date!

The San Andreas Regional Center

Presents, An Extended IEP Workshop:

Part One: THE 5 TOP IEP MISTAKES(And How To Avoid Them)

 Jean Murrell Adams, ADAMS ESQ


Jane Kim, JUVO

What should I look for in my child’s IEP? Who should attend the IEP meeting on behalf of the school district? Can I bring a friend with me? When should I ask for help? Do I need a lawyer?

In this workshop, Mrs. Adams will help you identify the top five IEP mistakes and guide you on how you can avoid them.

Jane Kim has worked with children, teens, and young adults in home and school settings, and consulted with teachers and administrators to develop individualized, as well as classroom and school wide behavior interventions.

Light snacks will be provided

There are only a few spaces remaining so register now!


San Andreas Regional Center 

6203 San Ignacio Avenue

San Jose CA

SaturdayApril 28, 2018


We appreciate your continued support and referrals. ADAMS ESQ now has offices throughout California and Nevada to serve you. If you believe you may need legal assistance as your child transitions to the new school year, please contact us toll free at: 800-785-6713 or visit us on the web at:

— Jean Murrell Adams

“Making a difference…one child at a time.”


Disclaimer: The information and materials on the ADAMS ESQ newsletter do not represent the opinion of our attorneys, employees, clients, or any other viewers of our newsletters. Materials in the newsletter do not constitute legal advice. Although information is updated periodically, there is no guarantee that it is accurate, complete, or current. We recommend that all users seek the advice of their attorney before acting on any of the information available in this newsletter.

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