Medical Marijuana and the Workplace

Mascots that might appeal to children do not help win over parents or legislators.

Mascots that might appeal to children do not help win over parents or legislators.

Now that medicinal marijuana is about to be legalized in Pennsylvania, many questions are being raised regarding availability, treatable conditions, overall regulation and the relationship between medicine and employment.

The passage of SB 13 was very conditional, with built in limitations on what types of medical conditions qualified as being treatable with medicinal marijuana.

Yet amidst the wrangling over those specifics, there remains a much larger grey area to contend with: the right of an employer to impose conditions for employment.

Employers routinely set rules that limit what a person can and cannot do, both on and off the job. Safety concerns are the number one condition employers are most apt to have strict guidelines regarding employee conduct.

“What I do on my own time is none of their business”, is a common refrain, yet legally, that is simply not true.

Getting arrested for something you did on your own time can often be grounds for termination of employment. Your lunch hour is your own time, and perhaps you like a cocktail with your sandwich, but if you return to work with a buzz, you can certainly be subject to disciplinary action.

Employment that involves classified data relating to security issues is another area where employers routinely require codes of behavior both on and off the job. A drug habit, even a manageable one, can become a liability in countless ways under those circumstances.

Firemen, police officers, bus drivers, EMT personnel– all have codes of conduct relating to their employment contracts, because, that is what a job is: a contract between employer and employee.

There are many jobs that have “morality clauses” built in to their employee contracts. A company that deals primarily with products or services catering to children is a good example. Remember when Pee Wee Herman played with his pee wee in a Sarasota, Florida movie theater? His career tanked overnight, and only recently has Pee Wee made a comeback– with adults. It’s highly unlikely Paul Reubens will be seeing any Saturday morning TV time in the foreseeable future.

How all this  relates to medicinal marijuana legally speaking is still largely unknown. There are currently no accepted tests to determine actual impairment in the case of marijuana. As of now, the most commonly used tests will show the presence of THC– which is stored in fat cells– for up to six weeks after use. That means the joint you smoked 3 weeks ago at your nephew’s bachelor party can still be found in your system, even though the effects have long since passed.

Some states are attempting to incorporate patients rights regarding job security into their legalization legislation, yet even then, employers have traditionally had the right to set boundaries and conditions regarding medication use at the workplace.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll explore what they’re doing in states like Colorado, Washington and California to address these issues, and how their efforts can be used as a model for sensible legislation here in Pennsylvania.

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