Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Medical Marijuana Still an Issue Even When Pot Is Legal, Bosses Can Fire Workers Who Test Positive

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Medical Marijuana Still an Issue Even When Pot Is Legal, Bosses Can Fire Workers Who Test Positive

Article excerpt

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - In New Mexico, a hospital fired a nurse after a drug test showed marijuana in her urine. In Michigan, a Wal- Mart worker lost his job for smoking pot. And in Colorado, Dish Network canned a phone operator who tested positive for cannabis. All three workers smoked weed that was legal under their states' marijuana programs but prohibited by their employers' drug policies.

If Florida voters approve a medical marijuana amendment in November, a new front would open in the battle between patient rights and employer rules.

For medical marijuana users, the consequences can be harsh: Employers have every right to prohibit pot use and to deny jobs to workers or potential hires who test positive for cannabis, even if employees are not under the influence while they're on the clock.

"Largely, courts have upheld employers' rights to terminate employees for consuming marijuana, whether or not they have a marijuana card in their state," said Erik Altieri, spokesman for the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws. "We've seen a lot of people denied employment or fired for testing positive. We hope we'll see that change."

The courtroom defeats pose a rare setback for marijuana advocates. Pot proponents have won legalization of medical marijuana in state after state. But when workers sue over their right to smoke medical marijuana, they invariably lose.

The Colorado man fired by Dish Network sued for his job back. The employee, who had been paralyzed in a car crash, was denied.

The Michigan man canned by Wal-Mart also sued. That worker, who suffered brain cancer, lost, too.

The New Mexico nurse is a veteran who smokes pot to treat post- traumatic stress disorder. She sued recently, and her case hasn't been decided.

Complicating the drug-testing question is the quirky way the body processes marijuana. Unlike alcohol and other intoxicants, which the body quickly flushes, marijuana can stay in fat cells for a month or longer. That means a worker can test positive for pot long after the high has worn off.

"Certainly, we don't want to see anyone impaired on the job," Mr. …

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