Your Boss Wants You to Know: Medical Marijuana Legalization is Not a Green Light for Employee Usage

LLA Headshot smBy Lenis L. Archer, J.D., M.P.H., The Health Law Firm

The American opinion of marijuana use for both medicinal and recreational purposes has radically evolved over the years. A recent survey by Fextel, Inc. and StPetePolls.org found that more than 73 percent of Floridians would support a constitutional amendment to allow the use of medical marijuana to treat debilitating medical conditions. Although 23 states have passed legislation legalizing the use of medical marijuana, the battle to preserve a drug free work place has become a contentious issue between employers and employees nationwide. Drug free workplace regulations and longtime companywide policies are not likely to follow suit with the legalization. Employers are not eager to support an activity that would make an employee a greater liability to the organization.

However, employees of a medical office or hospital should be cautious when it comes to “playing with fire.” Amendment 2, a broader medical marijuana law allowing the growing, purchasing, possession, and use of marijuana to treat certain medical conditions, will be on the Florida ballot in November 2014. Employees should be aware that Amendment 2 does NOT address how employers should treat employees who are qualified to use marijuana medically. In addition, the proposed law would not require employers to accommodate the on-site use of medical marijuana for qualified employees. The stipulations accompanying the legislation allow for the use of marijuana, medical or not, to potentially be grounds for employment termination. Should the legislation pass in November, and should you receive a medical marijuana license, you may be not fully protected against the policies in place at your organization which forbid its use. Favorable public opinion of marijuana and even the legalization of its use will not earn you immunity by your place of employment.

 

Marijuana Laws: Federal vs. State.

Marijuana use is still illegal under federal law. Federal employment laws have not yet adopted state laws that are trending toward the legalization of marijuana. The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 is a federal law, and marijuana is classified as an illegal drug by the federal government. Many companies abide by the Drug-Free Workplace Act because of the profitable federal contracts that are worth keeping. Even if you have a disability covered under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, you are not protected by employment discrimination laws when it comes to the medical necessity of marijuana.

The New York Times reported that in the case of Coats v. Dish Network, LLC, the Court of Appeals of Colorado held that the state’s lawful activities statute did not bar the employer (Dish Network) from discharging an employee (Brandon Coats). Mr. Coats, a licensed medical marijuana user, debilitated by muscle spasms, tested positive for the substance during a random drug test at his work. Although the state of Colorado allows both recreational and medicinal use of cannabis, the court held that since the Colorado statute did not specify whether an activity’s legality was determined by state or federal law, and marijuana is illegal under federal law, employees licensed to use medical marijuana are not protected by the statute from termination. The case will now head to a Colorado federal court on appeal.

To read more on the Coats v. Dish Network, LLC case, click here.

This case highlights an important topic that merits more discussion. If states continue to legalize cannabis use, but the federal government remains stagnant on the issue or refuses to remove the substance from the list of drugs, users, both medicinal and recreational, will face the possibility of termination from their employer regardless of the legality in their home state.

How You Can Avoid Termination in the Midst of Conflicting Laws.

The bottom line: your employer can potentially terminate you for admitting to marijuana use and/or positive drug screen results. “But I am a licensed medical marijuana user in a legalized state.” Technically your employer can fire you under federal laws. Regardless of what state law, the United States government does not condone marijuana use. With the impending vote on Amendment 2 coming up in Florida, you need to be smart about the choices you make when it comes to the use of cannabis.

As a healthcare professional, you are held to a higher standard. Eyes are always on you to make a mistake or lapse in judgment. We have seen a plethora of healthcare professionals fight for their licenses and careers due to marijuana use. If you violate an employer’s drug policy as a healthcare professional, you face more than termination. You also face severe disciplinary actions such as losing your license, IPN/PRN contractual programs, and program exclusion (such as the OIG Exclusion List). Your career could dissolve right before your eyes over allegations of marijuana use.

Be proactive: review your company’s drug policies, and if available, its stance on the medical marijuana debate. Educate yourself of your company’s disciplinary procedures and whether they will apply to a licensed medical marijuana user. If Amendment 2 passes, regulations will continue to evolve. To maintain current knowledge, enroll yourself in continuing education courses (CEs). These will keep you “in the know” of changes made both federally and state wide. Obviously, if medically possible, the best way to protect yourself against employment issues is to abstain from any type of cannabis use.

 

Comments?

What is your stance on the legalization of medical marijuana use? What do you think the future holds in the workplace if more states continue to pass medical marijuana legislation? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys for Medical Marijuana Concerns.

The Health Law Firm attorneys can assist health care providers and facilities, such as doctors, pharmacists and pharmacies, wanting to participate in the medical marijuana industry. We can properly draft and complete the applications for registration, permitting and/or licensing, while complying with Florida law. We can also represent doctors, pharmacies and pharmacists facing proceedings brought by state regulators or agencies.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Healy, Jack. “Legal Use of Marijuana Clashes With Job Rules.” The New York Times. From: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/08/us/legal-use-of-marijuana-clashes-with-workplace-drug-testing.html?_r=0

Ballman, Donna. “Why Legal Marijuana Use Can Get You Fired.” AOL Jobs. From: http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2014/03/25/legal-marijuana-use-discrimination/

About the Author: Lenis L. Archer is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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2 thoughts on “Your Boss Wants You to Know: Medical Marijuana Legalization is Not a Green Light for Employee Usage

  1. Cannabis

    Its simply insane that cannabis was made illegal in the first place. I just read an article about how CBD is being used to cure brain cancer.
    I could go on forever about the injustice of government with marijuana. So many people in jail and patients being denied relief.
    I just needed to touch based and show we are behind legalizing marijuana in all 50 states.
    Please consider joining us on our website http://medicalmarijuanainmassachusetts.com/

    Like

    Reply
  2. Pingback: “Eight Big Things to Watch” for Marijuana Policy in 2015-From Brookings Institution | Medical Marijuana Law

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