The Legal Use of Marijuana Versus Drug-Free Workplace Policies

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Dispatches from the Highlands

Marijuana news from contributing authors and staff writers on the latest in marijuana and medical marijuana

October 26, 2016
Denver, CO

According to a New York Times story, even as 23 states (and the District of Columbia) allow the use of medical or recreational marijuana, many businesses continue to strictly enforce their drug-free policies, creating a cultural schism between a society that increasingly accepts marijuana and companies that will fire employees who use it.

Brandon Coats

Brandon Coats, for example, was fired for violating Dish Network’s drug-free workplace rules, despite having a medical marijuana card. Coats was paralyzed in a car accident when he was 16 and has been using medical marijuana since 2009 to relieve painful spasms that jolt his body. However, he medicated mostly at night and said marijuana had never affected his performance at work. In spite of this, Mr. Coats andother patients are discovering that marijuana’s recent strides toward the legal and cultural mainstream are clashing with office policies and, ultimately, derailing careers.

Employers and business groups say drug screenings identify drug-abusing workers, create a safer working environment, lower their insurance costs, and, in some cases, are required by the law. Marijuana advocates, on the other hand, counter that such policies amount to discrimination, either againstthose using marijuana to treat a medical condition or against those who use it because they have the legal right to do so, off the clock and outside of the workplace.

There are a lot of people out there who need jobs, can do a good job, but in order for them to live their lives, they have to have this,” said Mr. Coats, who is 35. “A person can drink all night long, be totally hung over the next day and go to work and there’s no problem with it.”

Generally speaking, most companies do not fire employees for drinking a couple of beers or having aglass of wine — which is objectively more harmful than marijuana — after working hours. It simply does not make sense for law-abiding citizens to lose their jobs over a substance that is far safer than alcohol.

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