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Unethical company policies fail to acknowledge medical marijuana cards

Despite the extensive gains of pro-marijuana legislation during the last five years, broader reforms have failed to translate into the work- place. Jack Healy’s enlightening article in the Sept. 7 edition of the New York Times details the underlying hypocrisy of efforts to create a sustainable environment for marijuana users. The article recounts the tale of Colorado resident Brandon Coats, who was fired from his job as a customer-call representative for Dish Network after failing to pass a routine drug test.

Coats, who was paralyzed in a car crash at age 16, has been using medical marijuana since 2009 to treat his painful muscle spasms. He was reportedly prescribed to smoke a few puffs each night, outside of the workplace. Although his work performance never suffered and despite his having a medical marijuana card to verify the legitimacy of his drug use, Coats’ employment was terminated on the basis that he violated company policy. Stories like this are rampant in the 23 states that have been battling to enact legislation for medical marijuana and general use.

If our ethical attitudes regarding marijuana have truly changed, users should be protected by the same common-sense legislation that allows them to have a beer after work and individuals with painkiller prescriptions to work regularly. One aspect of the equation is the outdated nature of drug-testing standards, which, although able to detect THC in an individual’s blood, are unable to determine the level of an individual’s impairment. The timeline for urine samples, the most common drug test, can be anywhere from several days to several weeks, depending on the degree of an individual’s consumption.

Obviously, there are certain jobs – those involving public service, heavy machinery operatoration, or law enforcement – where it may be necessary to limit or even prohibit the consumption of behavior-changing substances. However, this determination must go hand-in-hand with rules surrounding the consumption of alcohol and powerful opiates such as Vicodin and Oxycontin.

In the same way you would prefer your employee not use his or her lunch hour to drink five martinis, so too would it not be acceptable to step outside for a midday joint. That being said, much of the existing sentiment surrounding the consumption of marijuana – medical or casual – is dictated from the federal level, much of it due to the fact that marijuana is still a Schedule One Controlled Substance. Regarding the upcoming Supreme Court hearing of Coats v. Dish Network, L.L.C., the company released a statement saying that it would risk its eligibility to compete for federal contracts by failing to comply with federal drug-free workplace laws.

This type of bullying undermines employers’ abilities to adapt to the changing trends of social acceptability. At the end of the day, the federal government’s atavistic and obstinate view with regard to marijuana hampers the safe development of the fledgling domestic marijuana industry, demonstrably hurting individuals and companies that believe marijuana is one of the few safe and reliable painkillers.

It is high time that marijuana legislation is reconciled between the state and federal levels, thereby eliminating workplace discrimination and allowing people to utilize marijuana for their medical treatments or participate in safe and legal levels of recreation. It may even finally be time for general legalization of medical marijuana.

Bjorn Thompson ’15 is from Edina, Minn. He majors in Math.