Legal medical cannabis in the workforce: it’s still a question that is very much up in the air for many people around the world. Most hide their cannabis use from employers whenever possible, although there is a growing tide of medical and recreation cannabis users coming out of the grow room and confidently telling the world about their cannabis use. While employer reactions may vary, many feel they are unable to allow even medical cannabis use in their employees until it is addressed and rescheduled by their federal governments. Patients, on the other hand, feel they should be allowed to use their prescribed medicine even while working if they need to. In the United States and Canada, medical cannabis has been searching for its place in the employment community, with some considerable backlash from organizations which still consider it the demon weed. (Or at least want to cover their behinds as far as employee policy goes).

Can You Consume Your Medical Cannabis at Work?

The short answer is no, and you should assume that it’s not allowed in the traditional workplace. Remember, assuming makes an ass of you and me! The long answer is that workplaces in America make their own rules about this. In the United States, “Individuals have the right to equal treatment…without discrimination on the grounds of disability.” This statement is in favor of patients; however even with other prescription drugs, use in the workplace is not always okay. The line seems to be drawn at the level of intoxication or impaired work practices – and in some jobs, obviously, impairment is more dangerous than it would be in others. For example, someone driving a truck who is intoxicated to a level of impairment is much more dangerous than someone sitting at their desk or working retail.

The French v. Selkin Logging Case

In Canada, the obligation put forth by the Canadian Human Rights Act requires that employers in Canada accommodate medical issues and thus some medications; the issue is whether or not cannabis impairs employees and affects their work. As in the United States, many companies have a zero tolerance drug policy, and in the United States, cannabis is still a federally-banned substance. In July of last year, the case of French v. Selkin Logging, John French sued his employer, Selkin Logging Ltd. for firing him because he smoked cannabis on the job due to a cancer recurrence. French also stated that the company prevented him from taking time off for doctor’s appointments related to the cancer. Selkin denies that, stating that French did not have a marijuana card allowing him to be prescribed cannabis, and also that he quit and was not let go. French worked with heavy machinery called a “button-top” which allowed him to grip and move logs on a daily basis. Due to the fact that French was not prescribed cannabis and didn’t have a marijuana card at any point, the judge sided with the logging company; also emphasizing that French was usually operating heavy machinery and could not afford to be impaired on the job. Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic Colorado worker who was also fired for medical marijuana use while working at Dish Network, also lost his case due to federal laws trumping local laws – not to mention the undefined and outdated laws surrounding medical cannabis use in the workplace.

New Jersey Firefighter Suspended for Medical Cannabis

Donald Wiltshire, an Ocean City Fire Department firefighter was suspended without pay and may be fired due to a failed drug screening that showed cannabis use. Wiltshire has Meige Syndrome, a rare disease that is also known as Brueghel Syndrome, Idiopathic Blepharospasm-Oromandibular Dystonia Syndrome, or Segmented Cranial Dystonia. Essentially, the disease causes involuntary and forceful contractions of the jaw and tongue muscles and those around the eyes. Its severity varies from patient to patient, but it is neurological in nature. The cause of Meige Syndrome is not known. Symptoms include frequent or forced blinking and eye irritation due to bright lights, fatigue, emotional tension, wind, or air pollution. At times, patients may be unable to open to their eyes due to repeated spasms. Displacement of the jaw, grimacing, chin thrusting, or teeth grinding are also common. Difficulty swallowing due to tongue and throat spasms is also common and may lead to respiratory spasm and difficulty breathing. Other muscles groups in the limbs can also be affected in some cases. Symptoms are usually found from age 40 to 70.

Will Donald Wiltshire Be Reinstated as Firefighter?

In Wiltshire’s case, the Ocean City Fire Department had just instituted a drug testing policy for the first time a little under a year ago – at that time Wiltshire revealed his medical cannabis use and was then suspended after twenty years of flawless service. Wiltshire’s suit against Fire Chief Chris Breunig is pending at the current time, but a judge has said he will not consider Wiltshire’s reinstatement until he has run the gamut of legal proceedings in the case. New Jersey’s medical cannabis law states that employees cannot be fired for medical cannabis use unless it can be proven that their consumption affects job performance. In Wiltshire’s case, his job performance was not affected. It is my hope that Wiltshire’s case will find him reinstated in his job where he serves the Ocean City community and protects them all – and that his case will set a firm precedent for other states and cases in which employees are wrongfully terminated due to employer fear of litigation and ignorance. As Fibonacci of World Cannabis put it, if we can trust a person to pull us out of a burning building at risk to his or her own life, then why can’t we trust that same person to make good decisions about their own healthcare?

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