Medical Marijuana & Lawsuits: An Update for 2019

You might not be surprised to hear that Patrick Stewart, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Bieber, and many other celebrities have admitted to smoking weed. However, when you think about people who work in manufacturing, construction, or agriculture smoking weed, some people raise concerns. A 2018 ABC News article reported that of more than 1,000 workers who participated in a survey about marijuana use, 14.6 percent admitted to smoking in the last 30 days.

Softer laws for medical marijuana, the legalization of gay marriage, and a push by colleges like NYU’s School of Medicine to grant free tuition to students can have liberals everywhere seeing a few rays of sunlight poking out of the conservative darkness. Whether it’s Libertarians like Gary Johnson or the Democratic Socialist Movement, the push to give Americans the right to ban firearms, who they want to marry, and what drugs they want to consume is alive and well.

What Does Medical Marijuana Treat?

Long gone are the images of people smoking marijuana solely for recreational purposes. Today, good employees use weed to manage conditions such as pain, nausea from chemotherapy, seizure disorders, and insomnia. One study of patients with Crohn’s disease set out to prove that medical marijuana improved patients’ lives without side effects. The results showed that 5 of 11 patients who smoked pot were able to achieve total remission of their disease.

The cost of healthcare in America is another hindrance. After health insurance pays medical bills, patients are left with different forms of cost sharing and balanced billing methods that can leave them struggling to make ends meet. This, along with the risk of addiction to narcotics, has individuals looking for natural ways to control their pain and chronic conditions.

Employers Versus Employees

Employers across the country are struggling to navigate through marijuana use laws and what they mean for pre-employment and random drug screens. If employees are drivers or pilots, operate heavy machinery, or work with children, businesses are still required to screen for drug use or they could face negligent hiring claims. As more job applicants fail drug tests, employers are being pushed to look at their employment practices concerning marijuana laws.

The flip side is that workers are navigating this same system as well, finding themselves facing severe workplace discipline or termination. Having a medical marijuana prescription isn’t enough to protect all employees because the drug remains a Schedule I substance according to the DEA.

All of this can create confusion and conflict in America’s workplaces.

Workplace Use Policies

The medical marijuana debate continues in many states and can be a contentious issue. As more states move to legalize different forms of marijuana — both medical and recreational — the American workplace must change policies and rules to accommodate workers who legally use the drug.

The National Safety Council urges employers to consider what they need to know about marijuana at work. They report that marijuana is 10 to 20 times stronger today than it was in the 1960s and ‘70s. The National Institute of Health says that marijuana use is linked to increased risk for workplace accidents and higher absenteeism.

However, more court rulings on medical marijuana use support the rights of employees to use the drug.

Medical Marijuana in the Workplace

In the past, many courts have ruled in compliance with the Controlled Substance Act, which overrides state laws and reads that marijuana is an illegal substance. A federal court sided with an employee in a 2018 case when Katelin Noffsinger sued her employer after she was terminated for off-work marijuana use. This is the first ruling of its kind and is likely to set a precedent in our judicial system.

Noffsinger, a registered medical marijuana user, applied for and was given a job at Bride Brook Nursing and Rehabilitation. The employment offer was contingent upon passing a pre-employment drug screening. She notified the potential employer of her medical marijuana use and that she would likely fail the screen. When the results came in, Bride Brook rescinded their employment offer.

Noffsinger’s case is the first time a federal court sided with the employee even though the drug is illegal under federal law. The court ruled that employers cannot bring an action against an employee who legally uses marijuana products.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Federal and states laws are moving in opposite directions. As researchers struggle to find non-addictive drugs that offer relief from pain and other debilitating conditions, the American public is searching for more natural methods. There is still much research that must be done to understand the long-term effects of marijuana use fully. However, for today, the court system is starting to realize the need to protect people’s jobs under state laws that give them the right to use marijuana products.

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