Medical marijuana mess

The legalization of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania may have eased pain for thousands, but it has raised concerns among counselors and employers.

Those worries were addressed at a seminar at Clarion University on Thursday. The seminar – “Medical Marijuana in the Workplace” – featured Pittsburgh-based attorney Katherine Koop Irwin; Cari Harmon, of the ARC Manor Addiction Recovery Center; and Annette Gold-Marney, a human resources expert and president of “You’re Hired,” an employment readiness program.

Koop said there have been 83,000 medical marijuana cards issued in Pennsylvania since marijuana was legalized in 2016.

She also said there are 56 dispensaries in operation and that Gov. Tom Wolf has approved an additional 23. Those dispensaries’ combined 600,000 sales have yielded $132 million.

However, Harmon said, there are problems.

She said some people with medical marijuana cards are upset when they are stopped for driving under the influence.

Those people are often ordered into court-ordered treatment programs, and there is often resistance to the treatment.

“The medical marijuana card is not a free pass,” she said.

Another problem, Harmon said, is there is no monitoring. The medical marijuana dispensaries do not check to see which other medications the patient may be using.

She said doctors, who may not be the patient’s regular doctor, might certify a patient has a qualifying condition without actually making out a prescription.

Koop said 33 states have legalized recreational marijuana and that the trend is toward universal legalization.

She said the second most frequent substance – next to alcohol – found in the blood of victims of fatal motor-vehicle accidents is marijuana.

She noted marijuana is still a schedule one narcotic under federal law. That conflict has made it impossible for some truck drivers to obtain a federal license or gun owners to obtain firearms.

The rules for obtaining medical marijuana have also led to conflicts in the workplace.

Koop said there has only been one discrimination lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania and it has yet to be adjudicated. The lack of case law has led attorneys to look at rulings in other states.

She said in addition to obtaining medical marijuana in the traditional forms, such as pills or oil, a new flour is available that can be used in a vape pipe.

“There is no way to monitor the amount of THC (psychoactive element in marijuana) that is being consumed,” Koop said.

Testing is also problematic.

“The effects can remain in the blood for anywhere between five and 14 hours,” Koop said. “The test cannot tell you when the marijuana was used.”

Marijuana in the workplace presents a challenge for companies that have a policy of zero tolerance on drugs.

Koop said the law does not require companies to allow an employee to use medical marijuana at work.

She said companies may discipline an employee who is under the influence of medical marijuana if there is reasonable suspicion and a drug test confirms the condition. Employees may also be prohibited from operating safety-sensitive equipment if they are under the influence of medical marijuana.

Pennsylvania has an antidiscrimination clause in the law that prohibits employers from taking action against an applicant or an employee solely because they are using medical marijuana.

“Until we figure all of this out, it is best to use your common sense,” Koop said.

Medical marijuana can also create problems for schools. Koop said there are special provisions governing students.

Gold-Marney suggested companies review handbooks, job descriptions and hiring practices to make certain materials are in line with current laws.

She suggested an annual review with managers to keep them abreast of changes in the law.

“You can’t just shoot from the hip,” she said. “To prove an employee is not meeting your standards, you have to determine what those standards are.”

The Clarion University Northwest Alliance, Armstrong Indiana Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission, ARC Manor, Clarion Hospital, Clarion Economic Development Corporation and the Clarion University Small Business Development Center sponsored the seminar.