Medical marijuana patients continue to lose their jobs for using cannabis as an alternative to prescription drugs. Most recently, Donna Smith, a medical marijuana cardholder in New Mexico, was terminated from her position at Presbyterian Health Services after she tested positive for marijuana during a random drug screen. Smith has since filed a lawsuit against the company citing discrimination.
Attorney Jason Flores-Williams, who filed the motion on behalf of plaintiff, says Presbyterian Health Services’ move to terminate Smith was a clear violation of the New Mexico Human Rights Act, which protects people with serious medical conditions from discrimination. He also argues that the company’s drug policy is “absolute hypocrisy,” considering that employees are free to use powerful substances like alcohol and Adderall, yet they can be fired for using physician recommended medical marijuana.
Presbyterian Health Services contends that the federal government, which forces them to test for illegal substances, dictates the drug policy. “Presbyterian is committed to patient safety and we believe that a drug-free workplace is a key component,” said PHS Senior Vice President Joanne Suffis. “The use of medical marijuana is not recognized by federal law and Presbyterian has a mandate under federal law to provide a drug-free workplace.”
Although medical marijuana has been legalized in nearly half the states in the US, the conflict between state and federal law has created a virtual purgatory regarding pot policy in the workplace. This confusion is causing workers in medical marijuana states to lose their gainful employment, but most are fighting it. In some cases, Supreme Court judges are being asked to decide if state laws that prohibit businesses from firing workers for engaging in “lawful activity” outside of the workplace translates to the use of medical marijuana.
In Smith’s case, she has pulled the discrimination card, which has been an unsuccessful argument in similar court battles. Yet, drug policy experts say it is important for medical marijuana patients to keep fighting for their right to work.
“As far as medical patients are concerned, a lot of these people aren’t able to work unless they’re using marijuana — and then they’re prevented from working once they’re using it,” said Jessica Gelay, with the New Mexico chapter of the Drug Policy Alliance. “As long as they’re not coming to work impaired,” she said, “it should be none of the employer’s business.”
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