Pubdate: Sat, 04 Jun 2016
Source: Columbus Dispatch (OH)
Copyright: 2016 The Columbus Dispatch
Author: William T. Perkins

Medical Marijuana


Even if Ohio Gov. John Kasich signs into law a bill legalizing 
medical marijuana, some patients could be stopped from treatment by 
their employers.

The bill passed by the state legislature last month would allow 
individuals to use, but not smoke, marijuana with a physician's 
permission. However, the bill also allows employers to keep drug-free 
workplace policies. That means as long as employers express the 
policy upfront, they have the right to fire, or choose not to hire, 
an individual based on marijuana use, even if that employee has 
permission to use the drug.

Marijuana, unlike prescription painkillers, is still considered a 
Schedule 1 drug at a federal level, said Rep. Stephen Huffman, R-Tipp 
City, who sponsored the bill. Although there are regulations in place 
protecting an individual's right to take legally prescribed drugs, 
those do not apply to marijuana.

Leaders of some trade groups, like Tony Seegers, director of state 
policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, say it's a reflection of 
Ohio's employment-at-will policy. Employers and employees have the 
right to terminate employment for any reason, unless specifically 
prohibited by law.

Still, others argue the provision infringes on employee rights and 
could lead to discrimination.

Fred Gittes, legislative counsel for the Ohio Employment Lawyers 
Association, said it's illogical for employers to be allowed to 
prohibit marijuana use, considering they are not allowed to prohibit 
the use of other potentially dangerous, legally-prescribed drugs like opiates.

"That provision defies common sense," he said "It's nonsense and it's wrong."

He added such restrictions by employers would qualify as disability 

Gittes conceded employers should have some ability to prohibit 
marijuana use in fields requiring high physical coordination. But he 
said there's no reason to assume that the average worker couldn't 
function on marijuana.

"Farming is dangerous and industrial work is dangerous as well," 
Seeger said. "We're just making sure people are able to do their jobs safely."

Phil Parker, chair of the Ohio Metro Chambers of Commerce, said 
having such a provision in the bill protects employers and employees 
alike from potential economic losses, workplace incidents and 
litigation due to marijuana impairment.

Parker said he hopes the provision will also shed light on dangers in 
the workplace incurred by prescription drugs in general. Painkillers 
can also affect peoples' reflexes and decision making.

"All the proliferation of drugs that are in the community, we 
probably should have done a better job a decade ago addressing some 
of the consequences of people using those drugs," he said.

Mary Jane Borden, president of the marijuana advocacy Ohio Rights 
Group, said legalizing medical marijuana doesn't do much good if 
people lose their jobs because of it. Just because someone tests 
positive on a drug test doesn't necessarily mean they're impaired, 
she said. Marijuana can stay in the system for days or weeks after use.

"It depends on the person and the job," she said. "Marijuana is not a 
one-size-fits-all chemical."

But Rob Ryan, president of Ohio Patients Now, another marijuana 
advocacy group, said he supports employer's right to prohibit 
marijuana. Even so, he said the bill will likely lead to reductions 
in workplace drug-free policies and drug testing.

Before its legalization, employers might have been uncertain as to 
their liability in cases of workplace drug use. But he thinks many 
employers are frustrated with the burden of drug testing, and would 
just as soon drop it.

"My two cents has always been if you're going to smoke pot for 
whatever reason, especially medical, be a good employee," he said. 
"Don't be a screwball."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom