We informed you in an earlier post about the task force established to assemble draft legislation regarding the protection of workers who are participants in the Louisiana medical marijuana program. The panel has less than three weeks left to complete their work in order to meet a Dec. 21st deadline for submission to state lawmakers. This will help to ensure they have sufficient time to draft legislation ahead of the 2023 session in April.
Louisiana Employment and Medical Marijuana Task Force has been collecting feedback and studying laws established in other states. These laws protect patients of state-legal medical marijuana programs from dismissal due to positive drug screenings for THC. Thirty-seven states where medical marijuana is legal have laws in place to protect private employees.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can stay in the patient’s system after consumption, even if that use is on their own time. Single-use can be detected up to three days after the last use. Moderate use (4 times a week) can be detected five to seven days after the last use. Chronic use (every day) can be detected 10-15 days after the last use. Chronic heavy use (multiple times every day) can be detected up to 30 days after the last use. This makes drug testing for marijuana unfair to employees who are using products to treat chronic conditions, which can make them more productive employees since the effects only last up to 12 hours.
Currently, state employees are protected by law from dismissal due to a failed drug test if they have a valid recommendation for medical marijuana. In fact, employers don’t even see drug testing results. The drug test provider simply reports the Louisiana state employee has passed, even if THC is detected in the test. Many on the panel would like to see the laws supported for state employees extended to employees of private companies to protect their employment status as well. In other states where laws exist to protect employees, test for THC has been completely eliminated.
The committee has also discussed unemployment compensation and the best way to measure impairment while keeping testing financially possible for small businesses. Task force member Troy Prevot, a physician assistant involved in employment drug testing, noted that “the difference between the technology for testing and the technology of measuring impairment can be night and day.”
“Technology can’t tell you … ‘this level means you’re impaired,” Prevot said. “It just doesn’t exist.”
The committee also discussed conflicts with federal laws including the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Act which impacts Federal agency contractors and Federal grant recipients of more than $100,000 and requires certified tests for workplace accidents. Their draft legislation would need to be worded so as not to conflict with federal laws or to make allowances for certain types of workplaces.
Other difficult roadblocks include protecting employees while also allowing for a productive work climate for businesses. If consumption happens on the worksite, any approved state laws wouldn’t protect employees in that instance. The goal of the committee is to allow participants of the program who use products legally on their own time from being discriminated against in the workplace.
All committee members agree that their biggest challenge is that most of the lawmaking power doesn’t lie with elected lawmakers but with Baton Rouge lobbyist Jim Patterson, vice president of government relations of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. His influence at the State Capitol has been discussed at committee meetings and suggestions to encourage him to participate in their work in order to gain his support. So far, it’s unknown what position Patterson might take.
Any legislation that’s passed in 2023 could also impact first responders. Alex Tony, former Army medic and presently a firefighter, spoke to the task force about the importance of medical marijuana to this group and why they should be allowed medical freedom.
“I think that we should be able to make that choice without repercussions. Because I work in a field where psychological issues such as PTSD are not only commonplace but they’re actually presumptive. Meaning at some point in my career I will see something, be involved with something, do something that I will be mentally and emotionally accountable for…for the rest of my life,” said Tony.
Others spoke to the task force including Military Veteran Ryan Bales, “When medical cannabis became a thing in Louisiana, I decided to give it a try. I was able to quit basically every medicine I was taking from the VA except my cholesterol medicine. So, I’m just here to try and bring awareness to that,” said Military Veteran Ryan Bales.
Democratic Representative, Mandie Landry from New Orleans, expressed her confidence that the task force will be able to craft effective draft legislation that can lead to fairer treatment in the workplace for medical marijuana patients, “We’re always going to try to expand it and clarify issues in the next session. And I think this group, it’s such a diverse group, they’ve been working really hard. I think they’re going to come up with some good, practical suggestions.”
The bottom line, medical marijuana in Louisiana should be treated the same as any prescription drug when it comes to the workplace. Bring in the Human Resources team and include cannabis training in employee onboarding. As long as patients are using legal products responsibly and on their own time, their jobs should never be in jeopardy. Medical marijuana has been shown to actually reduce absenteeism.
What are your thoughts on possible solutions? Let your representatives know that you are FOR the protection of employees who are medical marijuana patients in the private business sector!