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Update October 2019: Since this post was originally written, recreational marijuana has become legal throughout Canada. While the use of cannabis recreationally can be restricted depending on the employer, there are laws in place that protect job security for medical marijuana users. 

When it comes to medical marijuana legislation in the United States, Washington DC and 33 states have enacted laws that allow the medical use of cannabis. In most of the states that allow medical marijuana use, employers may discipline, fire, or take other adverse actions against employees who show up to work under the influence of marijuana – even if they are a medical user. About 12 states prohibit employers from discriminating against medical marijuana cardholders or from terminating employees who test positive for marijuana due to off-duty use. States that have some sort of laws for the job protection of medical marijuana users include

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia

As of July 1, 2015, Canada and 23 states in the US have made it legal for people to use marijuana for medical use. When it comes to patients keeping their jobs however, things don’t seem to be so cut and dry.

If you live in the US and you’ve obtained a prescription to legally smoke pot, you can still get fired for using it. Out of the 23 states that allow marijuana for medical use, only two of them have laws on the books that offer job protection. Even in Colorado and Washington, where recreational cannabis is also legal, there are no statutes set in place that protect workers from getting fired.

In Canada, things look pretty much the same. Although residents can legally obtain a prescription to medicate with marijuana that is completely legal under federal law, employers still have the option to fire workers based on marijuana consumption.

Cannabis Legislation Needs to Catch Up with the Times

It’s obvious that some things need to change here. When it comes to legally consuming medical marijuana, patients shouldn’t have to worry about losing their jobs. Take for instance former Wal-Mart employee Joseph Casias, who legally used medical marijuana off duty to help with the painful symptoms of sinus cancer and a brain tumor. In 2009, he experienced a workplace injury and was required to take a drug test. He failed and was immediately terminated, although according to the state of Michigan, he was legally allowed to use marijuana for medical use.

In another case, Maine woman Brittany Thomas was prescribed medical marijuana for severe back pain. She had been on prescription narcotics to control the pain but switched to marijuana when looking for a safer alternative without the often unbearable side effects she experienced from prescription pain pills. When she was informed that she would have to take a drug test by her employer, she let them know she wouldn’t pass because she was prescribed medical marijuana. She failed the test and was unfortunately terminated.

Every Single Day Medical Marijuana Patients are Fired from Their Jobs

While it might be different if this only happened a couple of times, that’s not the case at all. Countless medical marijuana patients are fired from their jobs every single day even as the substance gains momentum amongst medical communities. It’s pretty unfortunate when patients are forced to choose between the medicine they take and keeping their job.

Ironic doesn’t even come close to describing what this entire situation seriously is. Even with medical marijuana backed by governments, doctors, and scientists, there are people that are losing their jobs because of it. Old habits may die hard, but it’s past time for the stereotypes to be dropped on medical marijuana users and for employers to understand that it is legitimate medicine.

The fact that medical patients have been given the right to use marijuana but can lose their livelihoods over it is ridiculous. It’s time that medical patients have the same rights as others when it comes to their personal choices about taking care of their bodies. Prescription narcotics are legal and can make job performance seriously suffer, but no one bats an eye when someone’s popping opiates at work. They are legal, after all.

Well, guess what, employers? So is marijuana and it’s a hell of a lot safer than the prescription pills your employees are taking on company time. It’s time that those who legally smoke marijuana as medicine demand the job protection that is their right, and for employers to accept this (very legal) facet of modern medicine. If you would like to read the most up-to-date news and information about marijuana legislation, take a look at our collection of articles that cover this topic.


Works Cited:

  1. State Laws on Off-Duty Marijuana Use
  2. Protecting Medical Marijuana Users in the Workplace
  3. ACLU of Maine Sues of Behalf of Pittsfield Women Denied Job for Using Medical Marijuana

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