Use Medical Marijuana, Get Fired—Well, Not For Long (Maybe)

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Marijuana use can indeed be a “de-motivator”—for job creators who decide they don’t like weed or weed users.

Through the two decades that medical marijuana has been available somewhere in America, employers have had the right to fire an employee or choose not to hire a job candidate solely because that person is a medical marijuana patient. 

Employers have had the ability to summarily can someone for using illegal drugs for decades under federal and state drug-free workplace laws. But high courts in several states, including California and Washington, have ruled that this punishment can also be applied to users of state-legal drugs like medical and recreational cannabis.

Not every employer exercises this right—if they did, you wouldn’t be reading this—but the constant threat of losing one’s job over off-the-job conduct that’s legal doesn’t exactly make for a positive work environment.

It’s also tacit approval of invasive Big Brother tactics like drug testing, which by extension is approval of the notion that Wal-Mart, or any other big corporate entity, has the right to know what’s in your pee. Call it state-sponsored invasion of privacy.

This is going to come to a head sooner rather than later, with legalized marijuana available in more places than ever.

In the meantime, job security may be at last on the way for medical-marijuana patients in Washington state. A bill heard in a state legislature committee on Thursday would prohibit employers from firing, refusing to hire or passing over a medical cannabis patient for promotion, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported.

The bill does not give anyone the right to smoke weed on the clock or be stoned at work. But if a patient shows up on time and is ready to go, there ought not be an issue.

It’s not clear how many people have lost jobs solely for using marijuana off the job, but any number over zero is too many. It isn’t exactly easy to survive in America without economic security, and a summary dismissal for legal conduct away from the workplace amounts to robber-baron-era control over a worker. It’s just un-American.

Giving patients this basic right would be consistent with Washington’s “Law Against Discrimination,” which bars an employer from denying a job to anyone solely on the basis of any “sensory, mental, or physical disability” and requires a job to provide “[r]easonable accommodations” to a disabled worker unless that accommodation would create an “undue hardship.”

Since marijuana use isn’t exactly a disability—even though some patients are disabled—this would seem to be a nonissue… if it weren’t for the state commission which enforces the law declaring that allowing an employee to violate federal law is not a reasonable accommodation. And we all know marijuana’s status under federal law.

It will take some time for the bill to become law, and recreational users will still have to wait for job security. The same for patients in other states, but recognizing patients’ right to work anywhere would be a step forward.

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