What You Need to Know About Medical Marijuana in the Workplace

Medical marijuana has done wonders for people suffering from chronic pain and illness, but it comes with confusion. Some of the laws are contradictory while others are incomplete. This is no more apparent than in the workplace: those who use cannabis as medicine often wonder whether that use is grounds for termination. The answer may be yes. Here, we explore

Medical marijuana differs from recreational marijuana in that its use is authorized by a physician and used by patients to manage a condition. Recreational, on the other hand, is used for “fun.” Recreational is also much more illegal than legal: only a handful of states have authorized it. Medicinal marijuana is legal in the majority of the US.

Medical Marijuana and Your Job

Most employers can legally fire someone for using marijuana, even if they use it medicinally. According to Forbes, many states possess statutes that prohibit the use of marijuana in the workplace (as well as intoxication on the job). But the answer to whether an employer can fire someone who ingests medical marijuana at home isn’t as clear.

Unlike other drugs (including alcohol), marijuana stays in a person’s system long after the active “high” has passed: a positive drug test does not mean that person was under the influence at the time of testing. Thus, termination isn’t often the result of someone compromising their ability to do their job; instead, it’s the result of them ingesting cannabis away from work.

Some states are adapting their laws so that employers don’t dictate what employees do off the clock. In Arizona, Delaware, and Minnesota, employers are not allowed to fire employees for a positive drug test if they hold a medical marijuana card. Other states aren’t as progressive; in California, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, employers are allowed to terminate for a positive test – these states institute a zero-tolerance policy.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) further muddies the water. This law mandates that employers provide accommodations to their workers who possess disabilities. However, in most states, this law isn’t relevant to cannabis. Per NOLO, the ADA relates to federal law, a law where marijuana – medicinal or otherwise – remains illegal. In fact, it’s the gap between federal and state laws that leads to much of the confusion regarding what is and what is not allowed.

Federal Workers and Marijuana

Federal workers are under even more scrutiny – the Drug-Free Workplace Act governs them. This act requires a zero-tolerance policy regarding drugs that are illegal at the federal level. Still, this legislation doesn’t speak of drug use outside of working hours and it doesn’t mandate any type of routine testing. But it’s usually enough for an employer to make a case: if a worker tests positive for cannabis, even if they have a medical marijuana card, they can be fired. Federal law supersedes state law.

Yet one doesn’t need to work for the federal government to experience this. In Colorado, Coats v. Dish Network, LLC went before the Colorado Supreme Court. It involved Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who legally obtained and used medical marijuana; however, Dish Network fired him after a positive drug test. By all accounts, Coats was a model worker and fired solely because of the positive test. After his firing, he filed a wrongful termination suit.

On June 15, 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in favor of Dish Network, citing marijuana’s illegality at the federal level.

The Future

In New Jersey, a bill was introduced in 2016 that would protect employees from using medical marijuana outside of office hours. It’s presently pending, but its existence is proof that legislatures are attempting to clearly define the rights of those who use cannabis as medicine. Were federal law to change and legalize medical marijuana on the national level, the rights of workers would change, too.

Medical marijuana may be helpful for your condition: contact Holistic on Call to find out more. Affordable and accessible, we allow California and New York patients to qualify for medical marijuana online. Schedule an appointment today. You don’t pay unless you qualify.

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