When it comes to medical marijuana, employers ought to have wide latitude in deciding how to handle workers who use the substance legally.
Beyond the law, the rationale that employers have in enforcing anti-drug policies should be obvious.
Workers who operate heavy equipment or drive buses, for instance, shouldn’t be under the influence of a drug that could impair their reaction time.
People who are in severe, chronic pain, which has been the favorite reason cited by applicants for Colorado medical marijuana cards, are likely to have difficulty doing those kinds of jobs anyway.
As Colorado’s new regulatory framework for medical marijuana takes effect, we hope more of the cardholders who have schemed their way into the system are weeded out.
That, in and of itself, will vastly cut down on the number of conflicts between users and employers.
The more sensitive calls employers will have to make include whether medical marijuana use would make a difference in the performance of someone who runs a cash register, or answers telephones.
Here’s the problem, Denver Post editorialists: employers aren’t making the decision to keep the medical marijuana patient from smoking a joint before he runs the forklift or drives a bus. They are discriminating against the users of one particular legal medicine for all hiring and firing decisions. They are basing employment decisions on pot-free pee over performance. They are making Colorado’s sick and disabled decide between employment and health care.
Nobody supports the idea of safety-sensitive workers medicating on the job site. That’s why medical marijuana laws in all fourteen states recognize the right of an employer to not be required to accommodate medical marijuana use in the workplace. Nobody writing those laws and voting on those initiatives thought that meant no right to work for sick and disabled people.
Furthermore, Denver Post, you are supporting a dangerous concept held by many in business when it comes to workplace safety – the idea that workers with pot-free pee are safer workers. First of all, the defense that employers need to test worker’s pee in order to maintain a “drug free workplace” doesn’t hold up when you realize the Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988 does not require pee testing. It requires a policy statement, an awareness program, notification to employers about the policy, and a punishment or program for employees convicted of a workplace drug violation… but “force your employees to pee in a cup to see if they smoked a joint last night” ain’t in there.
Second, pee testing doesn’t catch the vast majority of dangerous impairments. A pee test can tell you a medical marijuana patient used cannabis last night to help quell pain, steady spasms, or quiet seizures so he can get a good night’s sleep and awake refreshed for work. But it won’t tell you if another worker used Ambien the night before and is still a bit drowsy in the morning. It doesn’t look for many prescription drugs that can cause impairment. It doesn’t catch the worker distracted by emotion or fatigue. It doesn’t tell you whether the worker played beer pong the night before and is coming to work hungover.
Speaking of the hangover, that hilarious recovery from a drug overdose we celebrate in major motion pictures, far more danger and lost productivity are wrought in the workplace from that legal, non-medical use of alcohol than the legal medical use of cannabis:
(Alcoholism – About.com) Dr. Jeffrey Wiese, medical professor at the University of California… reviewed medical studies on alcohol use published between 1966 and 1999.
Wiese’s research appeared in the June 6, 2000 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, a biweekly journal published by the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine.
Although hangovers might be considered trivial – just deserts for the overindulgent – it has substantial economic consequences, Wiese said in his report. (United States, $148 billion.)
Researchers also found that people with hangovers posed a danger to themselves and others long after their blood alcohol levels had returned to normal, suggesting that hangovers could be more insidious than actual inebriation.
Ironically, if you are an alcoholic and you join Alcoholics Anonymous, you are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act on 1973. For that matter, if you decide to quit marijuana use and join Marijuana Anonymous, you’re protected because of your status as a recovering drug addict. So, Denver Post, you’re saying if you use marijuana medically to solve a health problem, your boss can discriminate against you and force you to quit, but if marijuana use has become a health problem and you decide to quit, your boss can’t discriminate against you.
Which just illustrates the Denver Post’s characterization of medical marijuana and its users. You don’t like people using cannabis, period. The line about the “severe, chronic pain” as if those users were liars and frauds, never considering that maybe the forklift operator or bus driver has a nausea condition that requires medication after work in order to eat. The “cardholders who have schemed their way into the system” line shows they think only bedridden, frail, terminal, unemployable people should benefit from Amendment 20. Surely nobody who can work a job should ever need medical marijuana!
Imagine the reaction if the Denver Post had just suggested that employers should be allowed to determine which medicines a doctor can recommend to a patient. In essence, that is what they have done; they’ve given employers veto power over a doctor’s plan for patient care, at least if the patient wants to remain employed enough to pay for patient care.
Finally, Denver Post should be informed that while employers can discriminate against legal users of the 10%-20% THC found in natural herbal cannabis, employers cannot discriminate against legal users of the 100% THC found in synthetic prescription Marinol. Both cause the same failure on most workplace pee tests, but since Marinol is Schedule III and federally-prescribable, its use is covered by the Americans with Disability Act. However, Marinol is far more psychoactive and impairing and contains a little disclaimer:
Until you know how you may be affected by Marinol, do not drive or operate heavy machinery.
So once you do know how it affects you… go ahead and drive the forklift or bus?