Editorials

Medical marijuana users in Missouri beware: Working while high could cost you your job

Attorney talks about effects of Missouri medical marijuana law

Jason Roth, an Overland Park attorney who practices in Kansas and Missouri, said some people who use Missouri’s new medical marijuana law could be surprised that federal transportation rules still prohibit it.
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Jason Roth, an Overland Park attorney who practices in Kansas and Missouri, said some people who use Missouri’s new medical marijuana law could be surprised that federal transportation rules still prohibit it.

Employers nationwide are struggling to set guidelines that prevent workers from showing up under the influence of medical marijuana. Little argument can be made against the importance of a drug-free workplace — especially in safety-sensitive industries such as trucking, aviation or heavy machinery work.

Regulators of the drug in Missouri have a difficult undertaking ahead of them. Navigating the slippery slope of legal pot use is shaping up as an arduous task.

Who knew approving cannabis for medical purposes would drastically affect the ability to legally possess a gun, or even seek or maintain employment? But that is where we are now after Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved the legalization of medical marijuana earlier this month.

Much discussion has centered on a federal law that prohibits legal pot users from possessing or buying firearms and ammunition. Another legal conundrum is percolating: Will employees be allowed to toke pot legally while off the clock without repercussions from their employer?

Missouri officials are hard-pressed to create the appropriate balance between an individual’s right to possess or use a legal substance and maintaining a safe work environment. But it is a necessary endeavor.

The variety of medical marijuana laws from coast to coast is confusing. Judges in some states have ruled that it is legal to fire someone for using medical cannabis away from the job. But the Show-Me State should follow the lead of several other states that have laws to protect users of medical marijuana.

A positive drug test is simply not enough to prove that an employee was under the influence of marijuana while on the clock. Any rule set forth for Missouri workers must address that testing loophole while also protecting employees’ right to consume legal pain relief away from work.

A federal district court in Connecticut, where medical marijuana is legal, recently ruled against an employer that refused to hire a job applicant because she tested positive for marijuana in a pre-employment drug screening.

As a result, employers in Connecticut reevaluated their policies concerning employee use of marijuana outside the workplace. Missouri employers should take the same route.

In Maine, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees based on their marijuana use outside of work. The drug was also removed from the Maine Department of Labor’s list of illegal substances eligible for testing. That legal framework could easily be adapted in Missouri.

The Maine law prohibits employers from disciplining or refusing to hire workers over the age of 21 based on their off-the-clock marijuana use. Employers can still ban the drug’s use and possession on the premises or at work-related functions. Termination is still an option for employees who violate the law.

Protecting the rights of card-carrying medical marijuana users while off work should be a central piece of legislation for lawmakers in Missouri next session. It’s critical that the General Assembly safeguard the civil liberties of employees in need of medical marijuana for pain relief.

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