Despite marijuana being legal for medicinal use in over half the nation, workers in positions deemed “safety sensitive,” like firefighters, are still being fired for using the herb as directed by state law.
Because anything derived from the cannabis plant is still considered a Schedule I dangerous drug under the DEA’s Controlled Substances Act, “millions of truck drivers, police, firefighters, paramedics, people who operate heavy machinery, airline employees, and others who are responsible for people’s health or well-being,” face potential reprimand under zero tolerance drug policies, according to BuzzFeed News.
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In 1991, the National Transportation Safety Board blamed a deadly accident involving a Conrail train on an engineer’s “impairment from marijuana.” It wasn’t long after the ruling that Congress passed a bill that requires safety sensitive workers to pass drug screens for cannabis. Unfortunately, even though a growing number of states have since made it legal for people with certain conditions to use marijuana for its therapeutic benefits, the federal ban on marijuana remains intact for these employees – no exceptions.
Several lawsuits have surfaced over the years in an attempt to remedy the conundrum that exists between federal and state medical marijuana laws, but so far the verdicts have not gone in favor of the average worker. In most cases, the judge has determined that until the federal government changes its policy on marijuana use, companies have the right to terminate any employee that fails to adhere to the rules of a drug-free workplace.
It is a situation that has civil rights advocates howling from the rusty beam of the scales of justice.
“No one should have to choose between pain relief and gainful employment,” the ACLU wrote in the case of Joseph Casias Vs. Walmart. “No employer should ever have to tolerate on-duty drug use or intoxication, but employees who legally use medical marijuana to treat the symptoms of painful and debilitating diseases should not be fired for doing so.”
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Some of the latest statistics from Quest Diagnostics, a company that provides human resource departments all across the nation with drug screening solutions, finds there are more people testing positive for marijuana in the workplace today than ever before. It stands to reason that, as more states move to allow citizens to use the herb as an alternative treatment, more workers, including those in safety sensitive jobs, are going test positive for THC.
The real problem is there is not yet an effective drug-testing device on the market that has the ability to differentiate between marijuana “use” and “impairment.”
There is speculation, however, that a company called Hound Labs is on the verge of bringing a legitimate testing device to market.
Silicon Valley’s Benchmark Capital, the venture capital firm that predicted the success of Uber and Dropbox, recently invested $8 million to get the company’s marijuana breathalyzer up and running.
“Our ability to measure THC in breath really should shift the national dialogue from one about simply detecting if THC is in someone’s body to a conversation where standards can be developed that reflect actual impairment,” Hound Labs said in a press release.
Ultimately, more states need to impose protections for workers at risk of being tossed into the unemployment line because of medical marijuana use. But the situation is not expected to change much until the federal government steps up and makes a change to national policies.