Though medical marijuana is legal in 23 states, most businesses aren’t changing to keep up with the times. Instead, they’re keeping their drug-free policies, causing an environment that makes something legal, like medicating with cannabis, grounds for getting fired in the workplace. Over the past few weeks, there have been multiple stories about patients being given ultimatums by their employers – either quit using medical marijuana, or lose your job.
One case is that of Brandon Coats, paralyzed from a car crash he was involved in at age 16, Brandon has been using medical marijuana since 2009 to relieve the painful spasms that jolt his body. When his employer – DISH network – required he take a drug test, he knew he would test positive for marijuana but thought he was okay as medical marijuana is legal in his home state of Colorado. When Brandon arrived for work the week after his drug screening, he found that his keycard would not let him into the building. He was fired for violating the company’s drug-free workplace rules, despite having a medical marijuana card and medicating legally. When asked to comment on his firing from DISH, Mr. Coats said: “There are a lot of people out there who need jobs, and can do a good job, but in order for them to live their lives, they have to have [marijuana]. A person can drink all night long, be totally hung over the next day and go to work and there’s no problem with it.”
Brandon Coats is not the only American in this situation. Last week Don DeZarn, a 48 year old employee of Princeton University, was given an ultimatum – quit using medical cannabis, or face termination. Don, a U.S. Navy veteran, is now on paid leave as the University works to figure out how to accommodate his disability and use of medical marijuana. Though medical marijuana is legal in New Jersey, under state law employers do not have to accommodate medical marijuana use in the workplace.
These two stories illustrate an important topic that merits more discussion - how do employers reconcile the federal drug-free workplace policy with medical marijuana use in the states that allow it? Though patients are within their rights to use medical marijuana outside the workplace, when screened for drugs they can be fired on the spot for violating a company’s drug-free workplace policy. It is important to remember that the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 is a federal law, and marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I Drug by the Federal government. Companies who choose not to abide by the Drug-free workplace act risk losing federal contracts because they no longer comply with federal drug-free workplace law. This is a big challenge to legalization efforts across the country – if states continue to legalize but the federal government remains silent or refuses to reschedule marijuana, users are still able to be terminated for using a drug that may be perfectly legal in their state.