Medical Cannabis May Get Workplace Protection

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Benjie Cooper, Candid Chronicle

Because of voter initiatives and progressive legislation, medicinal cannabis is legal in over half of the United States. But even in states where medical marijuana is allowed, patients still do not always enjoy the same protections that are afforded for commonly prescribed medications.

Despite how it is used, medicinally or recreationally, marijuana is federally illegal, so doctors are banned from prescribing it. Instead, they offer recommendations, which are protected free speech under the First Amendment.

But because cannabis does not reside in the same nationwide regulatory realm that opioids and other prescribed drugs do, it is not always treated the same by employers in legal states. Depending on the business, they may or may not have an issue with a current or potential employee who uses medicinal marijuana.

There are currently eleven states that offer workplace protections for patients, though the nation’s first and largest medical cannabis market, California, isn’t one of them. Prop 215 passed in 1996, providing a reasonable defense for patients in state or municipal court; but the workplace is a different story.

In February, Rob Bonta [D] and Bill Quirk [D] introduced AB2069, a bill to provide workplace protection for medical cannabis patients in California and, under normal circumstances, exempt employers who might be restricted under federal regulations. Following amendments and a successful second reading on April 16, last week the legislation passed the committee with a 5-1 vote.

“No scientific evidence exists that medical cannabis users are substandard employees,” asserts AB2069 in Section 1. “Workplace drug tests have never been demonstrated safe or effective by the United States Food and Drug Administration in improving workplace safety.”

The authors of the bill state that “current workplace drug testing technology discriminates against medical cannabis use that has occurred days or weeks previously.”

The purpose of AB0269 is to make it unlawful for an employer to discriminate at any point in a person’s employment based on their lawful medicinal cannabis use under the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 or otherwise. The measure does not bar employers from terminating an employee who comes to work high or uses it there.

AB2069 is co-sponsored by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).