Medical Marijuana Patients in DC Are Now Protected From Workplace Discrimination
The law prevents DC government agencies from firing, refusing to hire, or otherwise discriminating against medical marijuana users, but does not apply to federal employees — yet.
Published on September 9, 2019

Registered medical marijuana patients working in the nation's capital may no longer have to worry about losing their jobs due to their choice of medicine.

Last Wednesday, the Washington DC City Council voted unanimously to approve The Medical Marijuana Program Patient Employment Protection Temporary Amendment Act, a local law that will protect registered patients from workplace discrimination. The new law prohibits DC government agencies from firing, refusing to hire, or otherwise taking punitive action against any registered medical marijuana patient. The law does not exempt registered patients from federally-required drug testing, however, nor does it apply to individuals working in “safety sensitive positions.”

The legislation states that “a public employer may not refuse to hire, terminate from employment, penalize, fail to promote, or otherwise take adverse employment action against an individual based upon the individual’s status as a qualifying [medical cannabis] patient unless the individual used, possessed, or was impaired by marijuana at the individual’s place of employment or during the hours of employment.”

City employers will also be prevented from taking action against registered patients who test positive for cannabis during a mandatory drug test. “A qualifying patient’s failure to pass a public employer-administered drug test for marijuana components or metabolites may not be used as a basis for employment-related decisions unless reasonable suspicion exists that the qualified patient was impaired by marijuana at the qualifying patient’s place of employment or during hours of employment,” the Act reads.

“D.C. government employees should not be discriminated against for participating in the medical marijuana program, so long as they are not consuming on the job or showing up intoxicated,” tweeted City Councilmember David Grosso, who introduced this bill back in June. 

Gallery — Cannabis Up-Close and Personal:

Mayor Muriel Bowser, who previously told reporters that she would prefer to allow each government agency to enact its own medical marijuana policy, chose not to veto the bill, but allowed it to become law without her signature. The law, like all local DC laws, is still subject to a 30-day Congressional review, before it takes effect.

“Employment protections are critical to ensure that law-abiding adults are not unduly discriminated against in their efforts to be productive members of society solely because of their use of medical cannabis while away from the job,” said NORML State Policies Coordinator Carly Wolf in a statement. “The enactment of this law will provide clarity to employers and peace of mind to the employees who work in the District of Columbia.”

Even though medical marijuana is now legal in most US states, many local governments still allow employers to discriminate against registered patients as they see fit. Countless employers, from small, local businesses to giant corporations like Disney World, have fired reliable staff for using medical cannabis products. A federal judge has ruled that employers are still able to legally discriminate against medical cannabis users, but fifteen states now have laws protecting state-legal medical marijuana patients from workplace discrimination.

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Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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