Medical Marijuana patients on the job: What are the rights for employees and businesses?

Medical Marijuana patients on the job: What are the rights for employees and businesses?

News 8 On Your Side is investigating medical marijuana's potential impact on employment: from your rights if you have a medical marijuana card to what employers can legally do if a worker uses medical marijuana.

Charles Whistler vapes medical marijuana for his insomnia and anxiety.

"It calms me down. It takes all the thoughts – 'What do I gotta do next?' – all the time, so that kind of just eases my mind, so I can go to bed and just relax," he said.

The 26-year-old got a new job at Pepperidge Farm in Denver, Lancaster County.

"I showed my medical marijuana card to them. They had told me that I was completely OK. Everything was going to be fine," he said.

But then it wasn't fine. He hit something with a forklift and had to take a urine drug test, which came up positive.

THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis, can stay in the system long after marijuana use.

Whistler said he was told he could return to work if he had a clean urine test and took substance abuse classes.

"I don't want to be labeled as a drug addict because that's kind of what I felt like," he said.

When asked if he ever used marijuana on the job, he said, "Oh, never. I would never. No. Work is a different thing. My time at home is my time at home."

Pepperidge Farm said employees are not permitted to be under the influence of a controlled substance on the job, but it does not have a specific medical marijuana policy. In an accident, employees are required to be drug tested – including for THC. If it comes up positive, they're referred to a third-party drug counselor. But the company said, "Our goal is to retain employees."

"A lot of employers being forced to confront it," said Alex Halper, with the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

Halper said many employers are looking for clarification in the law.

"The concern is that the law currently says that employers can be sued if they discriminate against someone who uses medical marijuana, but then there are also exceptions for different purposes. And if there's not clarity, then it really puts both patients and employers in a very difficult position," Halper said.

The law sets limits for employees in certain jobs, like working with high voltage, but is vague about other work.

"Keep in mind that cannabis is a very new area of law," attorney Judith Cassel said.

Cassel specializes in cannabis issues.

"The law has to make clear that you, as an employee, are protected unless you act under the influence – much like any other drug," she said.

Cassel said the courts often look to company policy manuals.

"So, employers really need to take a sharp look at their employee manuals, and employees need to refer to them before they enter the program or get hired for specific employment," she said.

"I have a new position that accepts my medical marijuana card," Whistler said.

Whistler never returned to Pepperidge Farm. He and his wife are disappointed at how things worked out.

"That's where he wanted to retire and to just be pulled out from under the rug by one little mistake. Wasn't fair," Breann Whistler said.

"I guess being honest sometimes can bite you in the butt," Charles Whistler said.

Lawmakers have proposed some bills to provide further protection for employees and employers, but they have not gone anywhere.

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