Can You Be Fired For Smoking Legal Cannabis?

Shouldn’t legal mean legal?

May 24, 2016

There are a lot of obstacles still in the way of true cannabis acceptance. One of the biggest frustrations in states that have legalized the plant for medical, and even recreational use, is that yes, you can still get fired for using it. The question for many is why? Shouldn’t legal mean legal?

My house, my rules

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Companies, especially larger ones, have their own policies on employee behavior. Some will let you go for talking to the competition, some will troll your social media pages and fire you for “unbecoming conduct”. Some states have workplace laws that allow employers to fire you for no reason at all.

When it comes to cannabis, there are no protections. A medical patient in Colorado found that out the hard way last year. This year, an Oregon new anchor found that out, too. After an accident in a company vehicle, she was forced to take a mandatory drug screen, which showed residual THC metabolites in her system. She wasn’t under the influence, she hadn’t even used cannabis that day. Even worse, she says that management actually wanted to keep her on.

Unfortunately, policy is policy, and she was terminated. Her experience changed her from a casual cannabis smoker into an outspoken activist.

“I wasn’t fired because I couldn’t do my job. I wasn’t fired because of my work ethic, my attitude, or my abilities. I was fired for enjoying a plant, on my own time, in the privacy of my own home. A plant that the majority of voters in Oregon believe should be legal.”

Why don’t companies change the rules

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For small mom-and-pop businesses, changing policy is as easy as “Hey, so now it’s cool.” This has occurred, and many companies that can change the policy, without tarnishing their image with the public, have. A large factor in these small businesses is the owner’s personal stance on the subject.

But for larger companies, especially those that operate in multiple states or countries, those changes are tied up in insurance stipulations and federal law. Workplace policies for larger companies are scrutinized by OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is why there are drug tests for workplace safety in the first place.

OSHA is mostly concerned with equipment and vehicle operators, but they enforce the policy across the board for “safe” workplace environments, including the danger of “impaired or dangerous coworkers”.

Larger companies are also afraid of coming under the ire of federal jurisdiction for allowing an employee to have the federally illegal drug in their system and keep their job. The problem for cannabis users is that unlike the group of guys who binge drink all weekend and show up to work hungover, cannabis stays in the system for weeks, or longer, and testing for its impairing presence is highly inaccurate.

How can the problem be solved?

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The fact remains that as long as marijuana is illegal at the federal level, companies large and small aren’t under any pressure other than from their employees to change the policy. If the company has the ability, but only a few employees are affected, then they also have no incentive to go through the headaches of reprinting all those employment manuals and retraining staff.

I have worked at companies where almost half the staff were avid cannabis lovers, but policy was still policy. If you were lucky, and the boss liked you, they would give you a heads up when a “random” test was going to be administered. That still left the problem of passing the test, but at least they did what they could.

The people most affected by this schism between the right thing to do and the safe thing are the ones least able to do anything about it. Medical patients need their medicine. Often, they couldn’t perform their jobs without it. Only through being persistent and outspoken about the need for change is anything going to be done.

The problem is that by standing up for what is right, employees put their jobs at risk, and for many, that is a risk they are unable to take.

Do you think when a state passes legalization, it should also pass laws prohibiting workplace dismissal for lawful consumption? Share your thoughts on social media or in the comments below.

May 24, 2016