Hospitalized SF middle school students sickened by cannabis

School district and health officials have confirmed that the unknown substance that led to the hospitalization of 10 James Lick Middle School students earlier this week was cannabis.

The students were treated by medical professionals who concluded that their symptoms were consistent with marijuana intoxication, and a container labeled “medical marijuana” was confiscated, according to a statement released Wednesday by the San Francisco Unified School District.

San Francisco Health Department spokesperson Rachel Kagan confirmed Wednesday that the students had consumed marijuana edibles.

Fire and police responded to a report of students falling ill at James Lick Middle School in the Mission-Dolores neighborhood around 2:55 p.m. on Tuesday. At the time, it was reported that the students had suffered “adverse reactions” from ingesting a mystery substance and were taken to a nearby hospital.

According to a school district spokesperson, one student initially reported feeling ill around 1:20 p.m. after eating “some kind of substance,” and others who also consumed the substance soon came forward.

Seven students were described as having minor injuries, two had moderate injuries, and one had a particularly severe reaction but none of their conditions were considered life threatening, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Fire Department said. Parents of the students were notified.

The school district has a policy that prohibits bringing or consuming any drug, whether legal for those 21 and older not, on school campuses on school campuses.

Teachers will continue to “prioritize a fact-based drug education program at all grade levels,” and the district will work with teachers and administrators to “process this incident with students in age-appropriate discussions,” a district spokeswoman said.

The Board of Education is also working to adopt a Drug and Alcohol Free Schools policy to comply with a recent change in state law.
Recreational use of marijuana was legalized in California for adults 21 or older after voters approved Proposition 64 in November 2016. Medical marijuana has been legalized in California since 1996.

The school district’s policy would be updated in accordance with Prop. 64, which prohibits “the consumption of marijuana in a public place unlicensed for such use, including near K–12 schools and other areas where children are present.”

The updated policy is specifically geared toward “community groups that use SFUSD facilities after school hours,” according an SFUSD spokesperson.
Kagan said that Tuesday’s incident at James Lick provided school and health officials with an “opportunity to talk” with students about marijuana consumption.

In December, the department launched a Recreational Cannabis Public Health Campaign, as well as several Public Service Announcements targeting youth. Current efforts are centered around providing young people with the “facts and information to make healthy decisions,” according to Kagan.

“[Marijuana] is still illegal if you are under 21,” Kagan said, adding that health officials do expect “more visibility and exposure to cannabis products and marketing” and that “temptation will be greater than it has been.”

Health Department data from 2015 shows that some 71 percent of San Francisco high school students had never tried cannabis — a statistic that stands in contrast with an enhanced perception of widespread use among teens, particularly after legalization, said Kagan.

Kagan said the department planned to send out additional advisories on Wednesday to inform the public about the risks associated with cannabis consumption, and would continue to collaborate with the school district on programs to support “healthy decision making.”

The incident also spurred some conversation about what changes, if any, school officials would make to curriculum regarding drug use.

At a Board of Education meeting on Tuesday night, Commissioner Mark Sanchez said that Prop. 64 obligated the district and city to “do as much education as possible for our students.”

“Keeping our students safe is our number one priority, outside of educating them,” he said.

Though Sanchez said that he did not expect a “spike in usage of marijuana by students,” he did anticipate more conversation around curriculum and instruction among The City’s educators.

“This policy will help us get that going,” he said in reference to Drug and Alcohol Free Schools.

This story has been updated from its original version.

Laura Waxmann

Laura Waxmann covers education and community news for the San Francisco Examiner. Reach her at (415) 359-2730 and Follow Laura on Twitter: @laura_waxee

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