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The Week Ahead: Legal But Not Free: Medical Marijuana Shouldn’t Cost Anyone a Livelihood

The Week Ahead is Monterey Bud’s weekly column focusing down on the most pressing cannabis policies, issues and discussions. Each Monday, Monterey Bud brings his voice to comment on the marijuana industry and the politics of cannabis from the perspective of a weed apostle.

As more states tumble towards marijuana legalization, the questions surrounding cannabis use, employment and drug testing only grow more complex. While no one wants to work in an unsafe environment, should testing positive for marijuana metabolites be enough to get you fired?

Testing positive for THC is a serious problem for employees and employers in many states — regardless of legality. It recently cost a New Jersey forklift operator his job. The operator, Daniel Cotto, filed a discrimination lawsuit against his employer, Ardagh Glass, after the business required him to pass a urine test in order to return to work after a workplace injury. A federal judge ruled on Aug. 10, 2018, that Ardagh Glass Packaging was not required to waive mandatory drug testing for Cotto, even though he informed the company that he was a New Jersey medical marijuana patient when he was hired six years earlier.

Ardagh Glass was apparently fine with Cotto’s use of the opioid-based medication Percocet, but felt medicinal cannabis was the problem and grounds for firing. According to court documents, Ardagh Glass was not concerned about the Percocet — rather, it was concerned about Plaintiff’s use of marijuana.

Cotto has discovered that being a medical marijuana patient may be beneficial for his health, but hazardous to his employment. And Cotto is far from the only New Jerseyan vulnerable to this type of discrimination. A 2017 annual report generated by the New Jersey Department of Health states that there are more than 19,000 active patients, caregivers, and physicians in the state’s medical marijuana program — 50 percent of which were new in 2017.

If other private companies have the same attitude towards cannabis as Ardagh Glass does, drug tests pose a problem for the state’s medical marijuana patients, cannabis consumers and employers across the country.

We[ed]The People

This seems like a good time to remind everyone recreational marijuana is now legal in nine states plus the District of Columbia. Additionally, 29 states have thus far amended their laws to legalize medical cannabis. In other words, approximately 200 million Americans have either legal access to purchase marijuana, use marijuana, or both.

That’s a lot of people who can get fired for consuming a product that is legal in their state.

The Marijuana Policy Project has reported more than 2 million medical marijuana patients scattered throughout the United States. According to a Quinnipiac University national poll published on April 26, 2018, 93 percent of surveyed Americans are supportive of medical marijuana use.

But regardless of its social acceptance or medicinal efficacy, those who choose to relax with a joint after work, or medicate with a cannabis product during their off-duty hours, could face the very real possibility of losing their job – regardless of a doctor’s recommendation.

Marijuana was shamefully miscategorized as a Schedule I narcotic within the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. Identified by the federal government as having no accepted medical use, marijuana has been a problematic issue for America’s employers since the days of President Richard Nixon. Although there is no requirement for most private US companies to mandate a drug-free workplace, those companies with federal contracts or that deal with safety- or security-sensitive industries are required to follow federal drug laws and test for THC.

While It seems judicious to require those employees who operate heavy equipment or dangerous machinery to be periodically tested for specific drugs – say, methamphetamine or heroin — the firing of a temp worker, janitor, receptionist, or forklift operator for testing positive for the presence of THC is perhaps a little overzealous. Particularly if the THC metabolites were the byproduct of physician-recommended cannabis use.

Ostensibly non-lethal and physically non-addictive, marijuana not only provides a safer form of pain relief for those sensitive to prescription medications, but also it represents an effective option to help break America’s toxic desire for prescribed pharmaceuticals.

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