New Utah Bill Lets Employers Discriminate Against Medical Marijuana Patients
Utah's medical marijuana law doesn't mention how private businesses should treat cannabis patients. But a new bill would clarify that employers can legally fire pot patients for failing drug tests.
Published on February 18, 2020

If you’re a medical marijuana patient in Utah, you better double-check your employment agreement to ensure that you can consume weed off-the-clock and keep your job.

A new bill, SB 121, changes the state’s medical marijuana law to “clarify” that private employers are not required to accommodate workers who are medical cannabis patients. In other words, a business does not need to change its hiring, firing, or drug testing policies for cannabis patients. However, the bill does not prevent employers from taking a pro-medical pot stance, either.

“What other medication or medical treatment is subject to employers’ scrutiny?” Christine Stenquist, president of the non-profit Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE, said to Deseret News. “It’s entirely inappropriate for an employer to impose their opinion on an employee’s medical treatment.” 

However, some medical marijuana advocates support the bill. Connor Boyack, president of libertarian think tank the Libertas Institute, backs both the state’s medical marijuana law, Proposition 2, and SB 121.

“Personally, certainly, I would be concerned if any company is taking any adverse action against a patient using their medicine,” Boyack said. “[W]e never sought to compel private businesses to allow the use of cannabis by their employees. As a free-market organization ourselves, we wouldn’t want the government to coerce companies in that way, and so we thought it proper to keep the policy that way.”

To avoid passing a law that would protect medical patients from weed-hating employers, Boyack wants to educate business owners instead. However, he didn’t specify what, exactly, employers would be educated on, or how that education would persuade bosses from terminating anyone who failed a drug screen for weed.

It seems a little pointless to legalize medical marijuana so patients won’t go to jail for self-medicating, then leave them wide open to a ruined career or hopeless financial situation for doing something that’s totally legal under state law. Some states, such as Maine, Nevada, and Oklahoma, categorize cannabis consumers as a protected class, which prevents patients (and, in some cases, recreational users) from being terminated for simply blazing a joint while in the privacy of their own homes. Ironically enough, Prop. 2 requires all public employers (read: state government agencies) to treat their employees who take medical marijuana just like any other employee on FDA-approved pharmaceuticals. 

In other words, if SB 121 passes, Utah’s government will be more progressive regarding medical weed than many (if not most) of the state’s private enterprises. Additionally, professions that require state licensing, such as medical doctors and teachers, will be allowed to register for medical marijuana. But if they work for a private company (such as a private hospital or private school), they may be subject to termination. 

In all fairness to business owners, SB 121 acknowledges the complexities of weed being legal at the state level but illegal at the federal level. Many national and international corporations follow company-wide guidelines that still treat marijuana as a Schedule I drug regardless of state laws, and many companies offer private insurance plans that don’t allow employees to consume weed off- or on-the-clock, too.

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Randy Robinson
Based in Denver, Randy studied cannabinoid science while getting a degree in molecular biology at the University of Colorado. When not writing about cannabis, science, politics, or LGBT issues, they can be found exploring nature somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Catch Randy on Twitter and Instagram @randieseljay
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