Cannabytes: Medical Marijuana and Employment

As many of us know, being a medical marijuana patient can put your job at risk. Paul Curry, a former Coors employee, learned this firsthand. In March, Curry was fired for testing positive for THC after a work incident. He’s been a registered medical marijuana patient for about a year, so he expected to fail the drug test. Coors administered a mouth-swab test after the incident as they do with all incidents (according to The Colorado Independent,) which Curry passed. The brewing company performed a urine screening, too, since Curry had admitted to being a patient. He failed that test and was subsequently fired.

Colorado Amendment 20 states that no employer is required “to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace.” Many interpret this to mean that employers have the right to fire patients who test positive, even if they aren’t actually impaired at work. And Curry wasn’t. He told the Independent, “I’m working sixty-five feet off the ground, often next to a 2700-degree furnace. I know my limitations. The last thing I need is to smoke a joint before work.” He also said, regarding the drug test, that he’d smoked only “about two weeks before the event.” A co-worker commented that Curry never went to work high.

Curry isn’t alone. There are at least 750,000 medical cannabis users across 16 states and the District of Columbia. Of those, over 120,000 are Colorado residents. That’s quite a few jobs at risk. And yet, patients who are prescribed pharmaceutical drugs aren’t fired for taking their medicine. This, of course, is because those drugs don’t stay in the system like THC does. As William Breathes, Westword writer and cannabis activist, showed us earlier this year, THC likes to stick around in our systems for a while. That’s why people like Paul Curry can test positive for cannabis use after two weeks of non-use.

It’s also why we need a better method for drug testing medical marijuana patients. These legal and responsible pot smokers aren’t harming anyone and certainly aren’t using before or during work. Not that they should be given a free pass–if someone is high at work, patient or not, an employer has every right to fire them. But that doesn’t mean that someone who simply has THC in their blood system should be. Yet some employers seem to think that medical marijuana patients will be high at work. Patients know the laws. They’re no more likely to be high at work than anyone else might be drunk at work.

Thanks to Curry’s case, though, patients may have some hope if they’re fired for failing a drug screening. The Department of Labor and Employment granted Curry unemployment benefits, which Curry says “proves [he] was never high at work.” Curry also says, though he’s looking for a new job, he’d really just like his old job back.

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