Marijuana testing too subjective, says school board

Maxwell Unified School District officials said they would rely on their gut when it comes to spotting students under the influence of marijuana.

Unlike alcohol, for which impairment can be reasonably measured using a breathalyser, district officials said at their Feb. 14 school board meeting that they have no similar test for cannabis.

“I researched it a little bit,” said Superintendent Zach Thurman. “Right now there is nothing out there, even for law enforcement. They do a test – a field sobriety test – and it’s really not saying they are high on marijuana, but impaired, and they actually have to go an do a blood test to see what they are impaired on.”

The school board, at an earlier meeting, authorized the purchase of a breathalyzer to test students for alcohol, particularly at events like school dances and rodeo, but Thurman said it’s more complicated to figure out if students are under the influence of drugs, despite the district’s desire to nip student marijuana use in the bud.

“Even if you do a sobriety test, it’s subjective,” Thurman said. “It’s a subjective test.”

While the lack of suitable tests and agreed-upon intoxication levels has been an issue in the legality of cannabis debate, school districts typically have zero tolerance for students under the influence of drugs. Proposition 64, which was approved by California voters last November, only legalized marijuana use for adults 21 and older.

Despite being illegal, the Center for Disease Control reported that 38 percent of high school students nationwide admitted to having used marijuana in 2017, which the CDC said could result in higher drop out rates, poor classroom performance, increased risk for mental heath issues, impaired behaviors such as driving, and increased potential for drug addition, because the brain is still developing at that time.

Maxwell Unified officials believe marijuana use among students has increased over the past few years, and according to Maxwell Unified School District’s recent Healthy Kids Survey – which is administered to the district’s fifth grade students – eight percent responded marijuana use poses no risk to a person’s health, compared to zero students who said the same of alcohol.

Like law enforcement officers, who can generally recognize “high” individuals, school officials can, to some degree, do the same, especially if students have difficulty functioning in class.

If that is the case, the school board said school administrators should treat all levels of impairment the same, regardless the cause, and have parents come to the school and pick their children up.

“I just think we can call up and say, we think your child is (impaired) and is disruptive in school, and you need to come and get him (or her),” said Trustee Kelly Haywood.

The school board agreed that they would call a parent if they thought a student was having difficulties in school due to a number of causes, including low blood sugar, excessive caffeine, possible drug use or a serious health condition.

“You don’t name it,” said Board President Cristy Edwards. “You just say, ‘your child is impaired.’ It could be from lack of sleep or marijuana; it could be from dehydration; it could be from prescription drugs. They are impaired; they are no longer able to function in class, can you please come and pick them up and maybe you can figure out what is wrong.”

School officials believe it will only be a matter of time before there is an on-the-spot test for marijuana, but until then, they plan to follow their instincts, and deal with impairment collectively. ■