Over half the nation has now legalized the leaf for medicinal and/or recreational purposes, putting millions of working class citizens in a position to consume the herb without any legal repercussions. However, many of these people are still at risk of catching some unwanted heat from inside the walls of the great American workforce because some companies still consider a positive test for marijuana to be grounds for termination.
It is for that reason there is now a push in legal marijuana states to pass protections for employees that feel threatened by no-tolerance drug policies. The national marijuana legalization advocacy group NORML is said to be spearheading these efforts in a number of jurisdictions, which it hopes will pave the way to new laws that prevent workers from being sent to the unemployment line for simply using a substance that has been deemed legal in the eyes of the state.
“Even though marijuana is legal and readily available in several states, consumers are being unfairly forced to choose between their job and consuming off the clock as a result of out-of-date employment practices,” Kevin Mahmalji, national outreach coordinator for NORML, told HIGH TIMES in an emailed statement. “That is why many NORML chapters active in legal states are now shifting their attention to protecting honest, hardworking marijuana consumers from these sort of antiquated, discriminatory workplace drug-testing practices, in particular the use of random suspicion-less urine testing.”
There is a tremendous need for legislative forces in legal states to stand up for this issue. Not only are there no federal statutes in place, but the courts have already sided with the business community.
In 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court determined that it was perfectly acceptable for a company to fire its workers for using legal marijuana—even if its use was after hours and for medicinal purposes. In the case of Brandon Coats vs. Dish Network, which challenged the company’s no-tolerance drug policy, the court found that since cannabis remains illegal under federal law, businesses were well within their rights to terminate any worker who tested positive for THC.
“Employees who engage in an activity, such as medical marijuana use, that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute,” Justice Allison H. Eid wrote in the opinion.
NORML’s new coalition will focus on repairing a number of injustices regarding this matter, including the reform of workplace drug testing policies, expanding employment opportunities for cannabis users, clarifying effective drug testing methodologies and emphasizing legal protections for workers at the state level.
Interestingly, a proposal was recently introduced in Oregon that would prevent workers from being fired simply for testing positive for marijuana. The bill (Senate Bill 301) would amend a provision that was designed to protect workers from being discriminated against for using tobacco products after hours in an effort to create a similar defense for those members of the workforce who consume cannabis in compliance with state law.
Similar legislation is expected to be filed soon in California, which recently legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. For now, not even the state’s medical marijuana patients are protected.
The coalition says its overall mission is to ensure that workers who enjoy marijuana once they clock out for the day are at no more of a risk for disciplinary action than a colleague who has a beer.
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