Ashley Surin, 11, has suffered from debilitating seizures since the age of 2. After being diagnosed with childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Ashley underwent several rounds of chemotherapy and spinal injections. The difficult treatments thankfully put her into remission, but one of the spinal injections triggered seizures. The powerful medications she took to control her condition left her with memory loss, fatigue, and mood swings. And they didn’t even stop the seizures. That’s when Ashley and her family turned to medical marijuana. But federal law prevented Ashley from being able to attend school while undergoing treatment. A groundbreaking ruling from a federal judge changed that, and Ashley is now back in the classroom in her hometown of Schaumburg, Illinois.
After a terrifying seizure in a supermarket sent Ashley to the hospital with a brain bleed, her doctors suggested trying a new medication. But dad Jim Surin said that was their line in the sand. Instead, the family sought the opinion of a different doctor who suggested a change in diet, and medical marijuana.
The Surins got their medical marijuana license in December, and Ashley began her treatment. She gets a small cannabis patch on her foot twice a day, and lotion on her wrists. If she has a seizure, she gets a drop of cannabis oil on her tongue. The ingredient that controls her seizures is cannabidiol. It’s different from tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the intoxicating ingredient in cannabis. Unfortunately, the law in Illinois doesn’t differentiate between cannabidiol and THC, and not even the prescription version of cannabis that Ashley takes is allowed in schools.
A nurse or teacher at the school could lose their job if they helped Ashley with her medicine. And Ashley and her family could face criminal prosecution if she wore her patches to school. The district was sympathetic, but felt compelled to follow the law. So the Surins sued.
The school district was determined to do whatever the could to get Ashley back to school. Darcy Khira, the attorney representing the school district, said she “applauded the Surins ‘courage’ for bringing the lawsuit against the district.” A little teamwork went a long way: the Illinois state attorney general agreed not to prosecute the Surins and assured school staff that they would face no legal ramifications for helping Ashley. A federal judge then issued a ruling allowing her to return to her classroom.
Last week, Ashley finally got to go back to school. Her father Jim said it was “surreal”, but that her aides and teachers were there to welcome her back with open arms.
While Ashley’s story is certainly good news for medical marijuana users and advocates, the ruling in her case doesn’t provide legal protections for other kids with similar circumstances. A hearing is scheduled this month that will determine where her case goes from here. Currently, Maine, Colorado, New Jersey, and Washington are the only states that allow students to use medical marijuana at school.