PA’s Confusing Medical Marijuana Laws – What Will Happen to My Job?

by | Mar 2, 2021 | Industry News, Laws & Regulation

Although Pennsylvania’s MMP has been around for almost five years now, medical cannabis still has a ways to go. While many of its neighbors are actively striving for easier access to medical marijuana, Pennsylvania is still adamant in confusing its patient community with its contradictory laws. 

The common question of: How does my patient status reflect on me in society’s eyes? Has unfortunately become a vital consideration when applying for your medical marijuana license in Pennsylvania. Why has it come to this? Well…

Sad as it may be, in many social situations, your status as an MMJ patient can sometimes speak for you. And you need to be aware of what it can say, especially in the workplace. To some employers, medical cannabis is as controversial a topic as you can find. And it can place you right in the center of some rather uncomfortable conversations. 

Thankfully, all hope is not lost. Your choice for better health should still be worn as a badge of honor and pride. So let’s take a look at your best options for navigating the stormy waters of PA’s medical marijuana laws with your head held high. 

Life as a Patient in the Workplace

At its core, the state of Pennsylvania offers its patients some legal protection from a hostile work environment. Still, stopping short of direct discrimination, chances are you will be treated differently for your condition. Why? The answer is quite simple.

In truth, medical cannabis carries a certain social taboo with it. While we are all actively working on its normalization, the best thing you can do as a socially-active patient is to accept reality as-is. More than that? Face the facts head on and be aware of what an employer has the right to do.

Legally speaking, employers have full authority to enforce a number of cannabis controlling office-culture tactics, and all of these are perfectly fine in the eyes of the law. But to clear up your main cause for concern:

Can your contract be terminated for using medical marijuana?

Thankfully, no. As stated by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) with a direct tie into Act 16 of the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act

“Employers may not discriminate against patients for their status as registered patients.”

Unethical treatment on the grounds of your medical marijuana patient condition falls under direct discrimination and exposes the employer to a lawsuit. This includes:

  • Early contract termination
  • Unpaid leave of absence
  • Written disciplinary action
  • Verbal threats of termination vis-a-vis your medical condition

Can my employer find out if I have a medical card?

It depends. Based on your chosen field of activity, you might have to supply your employer with your medical records as part of your hiring process. Therefore, your employer could request access to your prescribed medication list for any potentially work-altering substance. Marijuana classifies exactly as such.

However, if you are in good enough health and can take your cannabis medication outside office hours, you have no obligation to mention it to your employer. Since it’s an activity that you partake in in your free time, it falls into your right to privacy. Treat is as personal information that is yours to disclose at will.

Can I be subjected to random drug tests at work?

What about patients who need to take their medicinal marijuana regularly, including during work hours? In that case, yes, your employer is neither discriminating nor breaking any federal laws for regulating your use of MMJ in the workplace. Therefore, your boss knowing that you own a medical card can indeed result in a surprise drug test right after your lunch break. 

As per Pennsylvania’s anti-discrimination provisions, employers are not prohibited from “disciplining an employee when their conduct falls below the standard of care normally accepted for that position”. Moreover, they are not required to “make any accommodation of the use of medical marijuana on the property or premises of any place of employment.”

This means two things:

  1. Should your manager or CEO consider that you would be ill-fit to conduct a job under the influence, they can freely impose punishments for using medicinal marijuana during work hours. 
  2. It is entirely up to your employer if they want to let you partake in cannabis medication while at work. With a few exceptions relating to specific fields of employment (such as electricity and chemical industries), work performance “under the influence” is relative to your employer’s outlook and knowledge on medical marijuana laws.

A Brighter Idea of the Future

Having said all that, what are your immediate options? In truth, if you’re not dealing with a direct discriminatory act that can reach the court of law, not that many. You can always compromise and negotiate your medical requirements with your employer, but that may only prove a temporary solution. Realistically, the answer to the entire patient community’s plethora of workplace-problems lies in one act: state-wide decriminalization.

Fortunately, when looking at PA’s marijuana decriminalization plans for 2021, things are looking as bright as ever. One of the Keystone state’s key figures, Governor Tom Wolf himself, is more than eager to take it even further. He wants to legalize adult-use marijuana across all of Pennsylvania. How’s that for a power play?

If this becomes reality, Pennsylvania will join the exalted ranks of states like California, Washington, and as of last month, PA’s East Coast neighbor – New Jersey. A jump of such magnitude from strictly medicinal to fully recreational would shake the industry to its core. 

Meanwhile, we will wait for the future to manifest itself. At present, we know that your status as a patient might not afford you the understanding that you deserve for the bravery of taking your health and well-being into your own hands. Your workplace should be a place of fulfillment, and not of punishment. But fear not, be open to change, have patience, and trust the process.

Brighter days are coming. And the 21st year of the 21st century seems to be hell-bent on creating an idyllic world of cannabis.