A recent article published by CBS Chicago involved an Illinois man who was refused employment because he tested positive for marijuana, even though he had a valid medical marijuana license and a prescription from his doctor. This article highlights an important issue associated with medical marijuana can an employer choose not to hire and/or fire those who test positive for marijuana, even if it’s used medically?
The simple answer to the questions is yes they can… in Illinois. This creates major issues because a person can be legally terminated for doing something that is completely legal and their right to do. Medical Marijuana has been legal in Illinois since 2014 with the implementation of the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program. This makes it legal for citizens with qualifying illnesses to obtain prescriptions and legally smoke the drug. The reason some employers won’t hire those who test positive is because employers typically follow the federal rules and regulations on the drug. And at the federal level marijuana is still a schedule I drug, meaning it is considered to have no medical value and is illegal. Some employers are fearful of the possible risks to their businesses, so they choose not to hire persons who test positive for marijuana. In Illinois this is perfectly acceptable and is even specified in the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program; employers can have zero-tolerance policies on drugs and are allowed to enforce them regardless if the marijuana is used legally. This essentially gives a person two choices: their medicine or their job. People who are given a medical marijuana license are often in extreme pain, and choosing between the two may prove to be difficult, if not impossible.
Those who’ve tried to take this to court have failed in every attempt except one. The original attempt came from Brandon Coats who was terminated from his job at DISH Network after testing positive for marijuana. Coats was quadriplegic and used marijuana to stop his seizures. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Colorado where it was decided that the termination was legal. The courts have continually ruled this same way and stated that employers have the option to choose with medical marijuana patients. That is until this past July, when the Massachusetts Supreme Court sided with a woman fired in 2014 after testing positive for marijuana while having a medical cannabis license. According to Chief Justice Ralph Gants it’s a ‘“reasonable accommodation’ to make exceptions to a company’s drug policy if an employee is using something a doctor has medically approved for treatment.” This is the first time that a court has said that companies do not have the right to discriminate against someone for using medical marijuana. This essentially compares marijuana to the likes of other prescription medications that companies cannot discriminate against an employee for using. This is a landmark case and could potentially impact the way many other cases across the country are handled.
Unlike Illinois, a few other states where medical marijuana is legal actually do have laws in place that prohibit an employer from discriminating against a person because they use medical marijuana. Out of the 29 states that have legalized medical marijuana, only a handful have these protections put in place. But this is the exception and not the usual. Illinois does not currently have any plans to change the laws.
Until federal and State laws catch up to one another and get on the same page issues like marijuana will continue to be complicated. We will stay up to date on any new marijuana legislation news so stay tuned to our blog.