Marijuana May Be Legal, But It's Still Not Accepted. Just Ask This Woman


This is Donna Smith. Smith, a New Mexico resident, was fired from her job for testing positive for marijuana. But she's no random pothead: she's a medical marijuana patient and has a medical marijuana card issued by the state. Now she's suing her former employer, Presbyterian Health Services, on grounds of discrimination. 

"Drug Free Workplace." Presbyterian claims it has done nothing wrong and is simply following federal law. In a statement to Business Week, a company spokesperson said, "Presbyterian is committed to patient safety and we believe that a drug free workplace is a key component." So, basically, they believe that the few milligrams of THC in Smith's system, which keeps her crippling PTSD at bay, is a threat to other employees. What about her well-being?

Few protections. This issue is on the rise as more states legalize recreational marijuana. Oregon, Alaska and D.C. are set to vote on legalization measures this November, and many have different approaches to medical marijuana in the workplace.

Some states, like Arizona, have anti-discrimination provisions in place to protect medical marijuana patients who are drug tested at work. However in Colorado, the first state to begin legal sales of marijuana, a court upheld employers right to fire people for marijuana use. Even major national employers like Walmart continue to fire employees for testing positive for marijuana, even if that marijuana is treating a brain tumor.

Image Credit: The Daily Chronic

Tough choices. Employers are effectively deciding for their employees that marijuana is not an acceptable treatment, despite the fact that a doctor examined this person and prescribed medical marijuana as a treatment. We're learning that components of cannabis can be used to treat a number of horrible diseases that don't respond as well to pharmaceutical treatments.

The question remains: Why does an employer hold the right to tell a worker what type of medicine is acceptable to use? The U.S. Supreme Court broached a similar issue this year and decided that, yes, employers can make that decision. That's a scary precedent for chronically ill people who can only be treated effectively with cannabis. If you have a marijuana-manageable condition like refractory epilepsy, you might have to choose between working and dying.