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New Jersey: Legislation Would Make It Illegal to Fire Workers Participating in Medical Marijuana Program

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New Jersey: Legislation Would Make It Illegal to Fire Workers Participating in Medical Marijuana Program

Due to the conflict between state and federal law, workers who participate in their respective state’s medical marijuana programs are often at risk of being terminated for impairment because cannabis is still considered a forbidden substance in the eyes of the drug-free workplace. However, one New Jersey lawmaker hopes to remedy this conundrum for patients in the Garden State who have been forced into the unemployment line for taking advantage of a program the state has determined to be perfectly legal.

In an effort to create a separation between workers who show up stoned and those responsibly using New Jersey’s medical marijuana program, Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt of Burlington has introduced a bill that would make it illegal for employers to fire a worker simply for submitting a positive drug test for THC metabolites. The proposal would force companies to take additional steps before handing a person their walking papers over weed. First, the human resources department would be required to “offer the employee or job applicant an opportunity to present a legitimate medical explanation for the positive test result.” Second, they would need to prove that medical marijuana use has hindered an employee’s job performance.

“Unless an employer establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that the lawful use of medical marijuana has impaired the employee’s ability to perform the employee’s job responsibilities, it shall be unlawful to take any adverse employment action against an employee who is a qualified registered patient using medical marijuana,” the bill reads.

Although the protections included in this bill would not allow workers to “medicate” on the job, it would create a bit of a shield against the zero-tolerance attitude that has become the subject of much controversy over the past few years.

Of course, the problem with terminating a medical marijuana patient based on a positive test for THC is that a positive result is not representative of impairment. Because of the way marijuana metabolizes in the body, a patient could enjoy a cannabis product on Sunday evening, go to work Monday morning stone sober, but still be considered under the influence of an illegal substance if his or her employer happens to issue a random drug test.

So far, not even the courts have sided with the medical marijuana patient on this issue. In fact, last year, the Colorado Supreme Court handed down a verdict in the case of Brandon Coats Vs. Dish Network, saying that a company with a zero-tolerance drug policy was under no obligation to cater to medical marijuana patients because cannabis remains illegal under federal law. Since then, workers in many states that have legalized the leaf for medicinal use have been going to work in fear that a chance urine screen could cost them their job.

Assemblywoman Lampitt’s proposal, however, would “establish protections from adverse employment actions for registered patients using medical marijuana pursuant to the “New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.” The bill would basically force employers to respect the state’s medical marijuana law and the patients enrolled by not refusing to hire a “a qualified patient, barring or discharging a qualified patient from employment, requiring a qualified registered patient to retire from employment, or discriminating against a qualified registered patient in compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.”

Several other states have implemented similar policies to protect medical marijuana patients from being discriminated against in the workplace. Yet, more work needs to be done to shield those across the entire nation who are targeted for engaging in activities deemed legal by the state.

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