Cannabiscrimination: In The Workplace
The Drug-Free Workplace Policy in America Continues to Ruin Lives
Published on January 20, 2016

Employers in America have no affirmative obligation to accommodate the use of medical marijuana, no matter how desperately the employee depends on it. Just what exactly are lawmakers hoping to achieve by enforcing this drug-free policy in the workplace?

According to NORML, Arizona is the sole state in the nation that provides equal rights to cannabis users. Ronald Reagan popularized the “Drug-Free Workplace” in the 80's, when “Just Say No” fever had spread throughout the continent. In 1986, Reagan issued an executive order that's amazingly still in effect today. Courts in California, Montana, Oregon and Washington, where medical marijuana is legal,  have all been upholding the right of an employer to terminate an employee who test positive for marijuana. Marijuana, of course, is the drug most commonly detected.

Of all the men and women that depend on medical marijuana the most, Rojerio Garcia was among them. Garcia is HIV-positive and uses marijuana to increase appetite, fight HIV-related pain, and augment the horrible side effects from traditional antiretrovirals. A federal judge tossed Garcia's lawsuit Garcia vs. Tractor Supply Co. after he was fired for failing a drug test for marijuana.

Garcia applied for a position as team leader with Tractor Supply. Immediately, Garcia informed them of his HIV diagnosis, as well as his participation with New Mexico's medical marijuana program under the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act (“CUA”), N.M. Stat. Ann. § 26-2B-1. Garcia got the job. Immediately, however, Tractor Supply then proceeded to drug screen him anyway, and fire him based on the failed drug test. Garcia filed a complaint, saying that he had both a “serious medical condition and his physicians’ recommendation to use medical marijuana.”

The court concluded that the CUA did not require an employer to allow “an employee’s use of a drug that is still illegal under federal law,” and “To affirmatively require Tractor Supply to accommodate [the plaintiff’s] illegal drug use would mandate Tractor Supply to permit the very conduct the CUA prescribes.”

Garcia argued that the Compassionate Use Act identifies medical marijuana as an accommodation. He believes Tractor Supply is violating the New Mexico Human Rights Act. All of Garcia's pleas fell on deaf ears. Tractor Supply Co. filed a Motion to Dismiss. The court dismissed all of Garcia's claims, stating “Were the Court to agree with Mr. Garcia, and require Tractor Supply to modify their drug-free policy to accommodate Mr. Garcia’s marijuana use, Tractor Supply, with stores in 49 states, would likely need to modify their drug-free policy for each state that has legalized marijuana, decriminalized marijuana, or created a medical marijuana program. Depending on the language of each state’s statute, Tractor Supply would potentially have to tailor their drug-free policy differently for each state permitting marijuana use in some form.”

In other words, modifying the Tractor Supply Co.'s drug-free policy would just be too much work.

In the event of an incident, an employee must immediately undergo a drug screen, thanks to OSHA compliance regulations. Insurance companies are literally looking for any financial loophole, including a failed drug screen. If an employer can't find any inconsistencies, an injury could easily cost any business upwards of $10,000.

The American workforce is essentially being restricted by a 1986 law, when medical cannabis was virtually unheard of. The story only officially ends when the federal government removes the Drug-Free Workplace program.

Benjamin M. Adams
Benjamin Adams is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in a slew of publications including CULTURE, Cannabis Now Magazine, and Vice. Follow Ben on Twitter @BenBot11
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