Where There's Smoke, There's Fired: Employers Are Still Dumping Workers for Using Pot, Even Where It's Legal.

AuthorMargolin, Madison

For the past eleven years, Josh Harvey has been a patient under California's medical marijuana program. He began using cannabis for ulcers and anxiety, then it became part oi his treatment for Crohn's disease and mental health issues. A recovering drug addict, Harvey has refrained from using other drugs or alcohol for more than five years--and cannabis, he says, helped him do it.

Having persevered through his own recovery, Harvey now works as an addictions counselor at a number of clinics in Southern California, including one in a homeless shelter. Despite a workplace policy against drug use and the risk of random drug testing, he deems cannabis a medicine (not a drug) and continues to use it.

"I wake up and it's so hard for me to eat and I'm so nauseated, I have to smoke weed to hold down food in the morning," he says. "It can take up to four or five hours after I've woken up and used cannabis to be able to eat."

Yet Harvey's use of cannabis puts him at constant risk of being fired--even though he lives in California, where even recreational marijuana use is legal. It's a predicament he shares with many other people.

According to survey data from the Society for Human Resource Management, 94 percent of HR professionals at organizations operating in states where recreational or medicinal marijuana use is legal say they have formal substance use policies in place. Between 73 and 82 percent say their workplace has a zero tolerance policy for cannabis use while performing work. And between 41 and 50 percent have fired employees for first-time violations. The most frequently cited disciplinary action for first-time marijuana-use violations is termination.

"This is a trap that's caught a lot of people: Having your state make marijuana legal still has no impact on your boss," says Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, a New Jersey-based advocacy group. "Your boss can fire you for lots of things that are legal. In American law, your boss can fire you for any reason at all as long as it's not discriminatory of race or gender."

Thirty states plus the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medicinal use, and nine plus D.C. have legalized its recreational use for all adults over twenty-one. Yet, under federal law, cannabis is still a Schedule I drug, alongside such potentially lethal drugs as heroin, even though it's impossible to overdose on weed.

It's against the law for any federal employee, from Congressperson to postal worker, to use cannabis. It's also commonly forbidden for public employees who engage in physical labor that carries a safety risk, such as operating heavy machinery. Firefighters, schoolteachers, health workers, and other public servants are...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT