Employment Woes of the Marijuana Medicated and the Industry Responding to Their Cries

Written by Kate Givans

Gainful employment is a necessity – not because of the money itself, but because of the things that one can purchase with it. Housing. Food. Basic household goods, such as soap, toothpaste, and toilet paper. This is enough for some of society’s most vulnerable members. Unfortunately, many are unable to find it, and all because they have chosen an alternative path of medicine. Medicine that has been approved for use in 29 states but remains federally illegal. Medicine that gives them the ability to work but is still checked for in most routine and pre-employment drug screens.

Zero Tolerance is Still Permitted

Because cannabis is still considered illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, employers can (and often do) test for its presence in pre-employment drug screens, randomized drug screens, and work injury drug screens. In all but one state (Arizona), employers maintain the right to create and enforce zero tolerance drug policies. That means any employee who tests positive for the drug can be terminated or denied coverage for a work injury, and anyone not yet employed can be removed from the pool of eligible job candidates. In other words, using cannabis can, quite literally, cost you a job – even if you use it off-duty, and only for medicinal purposes.

A Nation of Contradictions

Most of the employees who are being screened out for cannabis use have some form of disability. They are also valid medical marijuana card holders. They are cancer patients. Multiple sclerosis sufferers. People who have been rendered quadriplegic after an accident. Honorable veterans who have served our country but need cannabis to function after suffering a brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder. All these members of our disabled community are thriving and have found a new lease on life – so much so that they are able and willing to work.

Take a moment to consider just how tremendous that is; people who, prior to medical cannabis, could not work are now looking for employment. They want to reduce their social security through employment, but society won’t let them. Instead, society, as a collective, is making snap judgements about who these people are and then blaming them for our own shortcomings, our unwillingness to see the truth. Not that this is the first or only area where America seems bound and determined to shoot itself in the foot.

We refuse to increase the minimum wage but then complain about full-time workers who receive food stamps. We pass judgement on women who stay in abusive relationships but then refuse to offer any sympathy or assistance when they finally leave. We turn away refugees and claim that it’s “not our problem,” yet many of us are the descendants of refugees, slaves, or immigrants ourselves. It seems that, at every turn, we are putting up roadblocks, making judgements, or just outright refusing to acknowledge a problem. Because it doesn’t affect us.

Yet – whether we see it or not – these issues do, in fact, impact our lives.

Directly, or indirectly, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that an entire community, willing to help themselves, is being forced back into a corner. We, as a society, are hurting ourselves, our family members, our communities. And then complaining about it.

ADA Remains Eerily Silent on the Matter

Now, I know what you’re thinking: surely the American Disabilities Act is protecting them . . . right? Wrong. The same loophole that gives employers the right to create and enforce zero tolerance drug policies has a gag on the ADA. If they have an opinion, they’re not voicing it. If they feel that this form of discrimination is wrong, they’re not doing anything about it.

Granted, there have been a few lawsuits regarding drug tests and discrimination – and not just at state or county levels. Ninth Circuit Courts and Supreme Courts have also heard some of these cases. Not one has ruled in favor of the plaintiff. Instead, the courts continue to rule in favor of the employers. Most use the “federal law trumps the state” excuse, but that is just another contradiction. States with medical cannabis laws are in direct violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act. What’s the driving factor? Perhaps it is more about money and politics than most of us realize.

Many states, including those with cannabis laws, have passed legislation that directly benefits employers but harms employees. Take Illinois, for example. There, businesses are claiming that their workers’ compensation costs are too high. They also claim that far too many employees are filing “frivolous claims” to draw money from the insurance. Yet few stop to consider that the insurance itself benefits them more than the employees.

Prior to the implementation of workers’ compensation laws, businesses spent copious amounts of money on worker injury lawsuits – often for known asbestos exposure that left employees with serious and fatal lung conditions, the loss of limbs and body parts within the railroad industry, and other serious and potentially fatal or debilitating injuries during the industrial revolution. With many companies on the brink of bankruptcy, and the rest tired of expensive and costly tort cases, employers turned to the government for help. The government obliged.

Employees jumped on the opportunity because it seemed like the best way to expedite the compensation process. Tort cases took time, and a win was never guaranteed. Workers’ compensation promised the payment of an employee’s medical expenses and lost time at work. Work injuries that led to death or disability would also receive a set amount of money through the workers’ compensation system. The one caveat was that employees could no longer sue their employers for injuries sustained on the job.

What employees didn’t know at the time was that the states would be allowed to govern their own policies, and that a life or limb in one state would be considered less valuable than it was in another. Fast forward to today, and the workers’ compensation system is nothing short of a mess. Injured employees are “lucky” to get compensation, and it’s rarely a fair amount. To make matters worse, serious delays, exacerbated by a complex system, still exist for employees. In short, it is the employers who made out like bandits. Should we be surprised that this is also the case when it comes to drug testing within the workplace?

The Cannabis Industry Welcomes Medical Cannabis Patients with Open Arms

If the ADA is silent, and the courts are refusing to offer any protection, then the situation must be hopeless, right? Thankfully, no. There is at least one industry that is responding to the cries of society’s most vulnerable; it’s the exact same industry that has heard them before.

It probably shouldn’t come as no surprise that it is the cannabis industry who are fighting for the rights of the disabled. After all, they are the ones that pushed for legalized cannabis in the first place. But now they are going a step above and beyond. Not only are they voicing their concerns and lobbying for change, but they are doing all they can to fill the gap for individuals who are willing to work but are unable to pass a drug test.

I spoke with about a dozen dispensaries, growers, and packagers throughout the country. While none were willing to give a statement, most conceded that they regularly employ medical marijuana patients. Batstone Budshop, located in Shelton, Washington, has a staff comprised mostly of medical cannabis users. Perhaps this is because the shop itself is geared toward helping medical patients. Or, perhaps, the willingness to employ medical cannabis users is rooted in something deeper – compassion, empathy, and most of all, understanding.

Many of the cannabis advocates are medical marijuana users themselves. They know what it’s like to be on the wrong side of legislation, and they have spent years – sometimes decades – fighting for themselves, their children, and their loved ones. They are people like Megan Holt and John Barclay, the founders of Maddie’s Law and Ducky’s Bill. Michael Scott with Project PC, an organization that promotes positive change through media and education. Jami Bisi, owner of Everything Medical Marijuana Magazine and CBD Outreach. Former farmer’s market growers who, once upon a time, sold and gifted their own medications to other patients in need.

We are our own community, and we have always been tight-knit. We protect, encourage, and uplift one another. Because we know what it’s like to face judgement and discrimination. We are, all too often, the outcasts of society. But we are growing. We are thriving. And we are making waves. It’s just sad that, for now, the community can only rely upon itself for hope.

It’s discrimination. And it needs to stop.

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