The United States is in the middle of a marijuana revolution. But because these changes are still happening, not all laws and attitudes have shifted, creating a confusing gray area. So, how do we handle medical marijuana in our everyday lives?
Many folks consider work as a major part of their lives. Not only does it give us money to survive, but it also gives us socialization and a sense of fulfillment. No wonder many medical marijuana patients feel nervous about their patient status affecting their employment. Luckily, there are a few ways to navigate the workplace as a medicinal cannabis patient.
Unfortunately, the long and short of it is yes, your employer can fire you for having medical marijuana in your system due to federal law. Even if your state permits medical cannabis, the federal government considers any form of marijuana illegal. So, an employer can cite federal drug laws as a reason to fire you.
While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities from discrimination, it doesn’t cover medical cannabis patients. Under the ADA, patients who use illegal substances can still be fired.
But even with the federal legal status of cannabis, some states are enforcing their own protections for medical marijuana patients. In legal cases that occurred in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, employees who failed drug tests due to their medicine received protection from state law. These cases prove to be promising for patients who need advocacy in the workplace.
Whether you should talk with your boss about your cannabis medicine depends on a variety of factors. Having this conversation is a personal choice for everyone, and it’s not always an easy decision to make. Before talking to HR or your employer, think about:
You should also go into the conversation with a goal in mind. Do you want an accommodation? Or perhaps you want to talk about the implications your medication will have on regular drug testing. If you worry about forgetting something, you can always take some notes to bring along with you.
Patients worried about how their medicine will affect their professional reputation can counteract the stigma by acting as professionally as possible during their conversation. While medical cannabis patients shouldn’t have to put in the extra work to be taken seriously, establishing professionalism can help you make your case.
First, if your colleagues accept your status as a medical marijuana patient, congratulations! Patients can face a lot of stigma and legal difficulties, and we’re glad you found a company that accepts your medical decision. However, just because your employer doesn’t mind that you take medical marijuana doesn’t mean you can use it at work.
We discussed earlier the legal cases where employees received protection from the state after becoming unemployed. However, in all these cases, the employees used their medication outside of work — none of them involved someone medicating on the job.
If you work in a federal workplace, you won’t have any room to negotiate, even if you feel your employer might let you use your medicine at work. The national Drug Free Workplace Act (the DFW Act) requires federal employers to enforce strict zero-tolerance drug policies that prohibit employees from using drugs on the job. Don’t worry if you only use your medication outside of work — the DFW Act doesn’t govern drug use off the job.
Even if you don’t work for the federal government, you still have an incredibly low chance of your employer letting you medicate on the clock. Most states with employee protections for medical cannabis patients don’t tolerate on-the-job medicating. They also often prohibit intoxication on the job, so you must take care if your medicine greatly impairs you.
Whether or not you decide to talk to someone higher up about your medication, you might feel that you should talk to your coworkers about it. Perhaps you have a close relationship with some of them, or one of them has asked you constant questions. Or, maybe you have internalized some of the stigma surrounding medical marijuana and disabilities and feel like you have to disclose your situation.
Just like talking to an employer, we can’t ultimately make this decision for you. You have many personal reasons for wanting or not wanting to talk to your colleagues about your health. But, no matter what you choose to do, make the decision for your personal health and happiness, not those of other people. After all, your health is your business and your business alone.
No matter why you’re considering bringing up your cannabis medication, you don’t have to do it alone. Know your options and rights as a medical marijuana patient and check out our guide on talking to your employer about marijuana for more advice.
Our extensive resources can also help you learn about your medicine and your rights as a patient. Popular pages include:
Medical Marijuana Patient Rights: Get more information on your rights as a medical cannabis patient.