Job Protections of Medical Marijuana Users
New Jersey recently expanded legal protections for people who take medical marijuana for chronic conditions, to protect them from employment termination due to drug tests.
Medical Marijuana in New Jersey
In January 2010, New Jersey became one of a slew of states to legalize medical marijuana use through a law called S119, the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. Now at the end of its first decade, New Jersey has 1,000 physicians participating in medical marijuana options.
There are 51,000 people benefitting from this new medical treatment, 2,000 caregivers in the industry, and 1,000 doctors now participating in the program. People undergoing cancer treatment, who have chronic musculoskeletal pain, or who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, among many other issues, benefit from access to medical marijuana in the state.
New Jersey has not passed recreational marijuana legislation as of 2019. Law enforcement must still monitor possession, and there are heavy penalties for having this drug on your person, in your system, or having certain paraphernalia on you or in your home.
Recently, several defendants won better protections for themselves in the state — not just medical patients, but those working in the industry. This comes as the governor signed a medical marijuana expansion bill into law in July 2019.
Expanding Medical Marijuana Laws to Protect Employees
While New Jersey has had a medical marijuana industry gaining prominence and creating new jobs for almost 10 years, the state has had weaker protections for medical marijuana patients and those working in the field. The recent expansion of medical marijuana laws included several new protections for people who use this substance to treat specific medical conditions.
Originally, the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act decriminalized the use of medical cannabis, but it excluded employment protections. This meant that people who were working and taking regular doses of cannabis through a prescription may have fallen victim to federal regulations, which could lead to employment termination.
In fact, the law explicitly said that nothing in medical marijuana laws required employers to accommodate employees using medical cannabis to treat their conditions, regardless of where they took the substance. While it is illegal to consume substances like alcohol at work, many people drink when they are off work. Many people take prescriptions regularly to treat conditions like pain or mental illness, and this includes them taking pills at work.
An appeal court recently decided that medical cannabis use had to be reasonably accommodated, as with other prescription substances like painkillers, per the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). The lawsuit, Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc., involved an employee who was fired after testing positive for marijuana because of their medical marijuana prescription. In turn, the employee sued his employer for disability discrimination since the employee used their prescription to treat pain from their cancer.
Thanks to the lawsuit, New Jersey residents who have a legal medical marijuana prescription can now take the substance while they are at home. They will not be penalized or fired if they test positive for marijuana on a drug test.
People who have prescriptions for marijuana cannot be discriminated against:
- During a job interview or the hiring process.
- While they are employed, so they cannot be discharged from work or fired.
- Via their compensation while they are employed.
Changes for Employers and Employees
This bill may limit employers’ ability to enforce zero-tolerance legislation, which is intended to keep a clean, healthy, and safe workplace for everyone. Since some people abuse marijuana for recreational reasons, just a standard drug test will not be able to determine whether the person should be fired or not. Employers may face further legal struggles if they need to ask tough questions, like to see evidence that the person is taking a prescription and not breaking state or federal law.
The law does not allow anyone to use marijuana, even with a prescription, on the premises of their job. Employers do not have to carve out space for employees to take a break for this prescription, which is in line with other zero-tolerance legislation.
The law also still allows employers who use federal grants or contracts to terminate employees for medical marijuana use if they come up positive on a drug test. This is because any marijuana use violates federal law, so companies benefitting from federal money or work cannot be involved with this substance at all.
The new amendment has taken effect immediately and grants new methods for and procedures to follow when an employee does test positive for marijuana use. These steps include the following:
- Employee or job applicant must be given written notice of the test result.
- They must have enough time to respond by providing evidence of their medical use.
- Or within three days, the employee or applicant must ask for a retest if they believe it is a false positive.
For job seekers, it may be important to disclose to your employer, prior to a drug test, that you take medical marijuana to treat specific conditions. While this cannot affect the outcome of your job interview process, it may help the company interpret results. Even if you do not, however, the company may not discriminate against you if you have a medical need for this approach to treatment.
For employees who test positive for marijuana but are not medical patients, ask your employer about employee assistance programs (EAPs). These can provide financial help and time off to focus on detox and rehabilitation. You are also not at risk of losing your job while you focus on your health.
NJ’s Medicinal Marijuana Program Triples Patient Count Since Start of Murphy Administration. (July 2019). State of New Jersey Department of Health.
S119, the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. Senate, No. 119, State of New Jersey 213th Legislature.
New Jersey Expands Employment Protections to Medical Marijuana Users. (July 2019). The National Law Review.
New Jersey’s Amended Medical Marijuana Law Provides Job Protections and Includes Drug Testing Procedures. (July 2019). JDSupra.com.
How Can the Workplace Play a Role in Substance Abuse Treatment? (January 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).