Pubdate: Mon, 08 Sep 2014
Source: Palm Beach Post, The (FL)
Copyright: 2014 The Palm Beach Post
Page: A8


The legalization of medical marijuana has long looked like a sure 
thing in Florida, with polls showing overwhelming majorities in 
favor. But with less than two months until the state votes on a 
constitutional amendment to legalize it, a new statewide poll shows 
more uncertainty - 1 in 6 voters haven't yet considered it - than had 
previously been thought.

This should be no surprise. In the strange world of medical 
marijuana, uncertainty is one of the few constants. With the narcotic 
still illegal under federal law, any legalization or partial 
legalization at the state level is itself a foray into uncertainty. 
Legal in the eyes of some government agencies but illegal to others, 
medical marijuana occupies a bizarre space in the 23 states where it 
is now permitted. This leads to all sorts of legal and practical 
conflicts, ones that Floridians will have to deal with if the 
amendment does receive the necessary 60 percent of votes cast in November.

Perhaps the greatest one is that, even if using marijuana for medical 
purposes becomes legal under state law, many Floridians will find 
themselves prohibited by their own employers from doing so. As The 
Post's Jeff Ostrowski outlined in a report last month, many 
businesses have policies that prohibit employees from using marijuana 
even in states where the drug has been legalized.

This has been a source of conflict across the country. Last year, a 
Wal-Mart worker in Michigan suffering from a brain tumor was fired 
after a drug test showed he used marijuana to treat symptoms. A nurse 
in New Mexico and a phone operator in Colorado were fired under 
similar circumstances. Even in states where marijuana is legal, 
courts have largely upheld employers' ability to prohibit workers 
from consuming the drug.

In the case of the Wal-Mart employee in Michigan, who used medical 
marijuana to treat pain from the tumor and sinus cancer, the company 
said it was "sympathetic" to his condition but had to "consider the 
overall safety of our customers and associates," NBC News reported. 
Employing workers who regularly use drugs can be seen as a legal 
liability in cases where workers injure themselves or others on the job.

This would surely be the case in Florida as well. Residents who look 
forward to treating chronic pain with marijuana instead of 
prescription painkillers could risk termination to do so - even 
though marijuana is less addictive and far less dangerous than, say, oxycodone.

There are some ways to address this. The simplest would be for 
medical marijuana to be legalized at the federal level, although 
simple legalization may not by itself clear up liability issues that 
tie many businesses' hands. Florida also could strengthen its 
worker-protection laws to bar businesses from discrimination against 
people who use narcotics legally to treat pain from chronic or 
terminal illnesses.

But the most likely scenario is that corporate America's view on 
marijuana use will simply evolve in the same way that the views of 
broader society have. As marijuana becomes legalized or 
decriminalized state by state, pressure will grow for businesses to 
adjust their policies.

Worker rules are hardly the only area of uncertainty. Growers will 
likely have trouble depositing their money in banks. Regulators will 
have to determine rules for labeling, production and who is eligible 
to consume. But these are not reasons for opposition to this smart 
and humane reform. With models increasingly emerging from other 
states, solutions will come.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom