By: Susan L. Swatski, Esq. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
On September 30, 2014, the Colorado Supreme Court is set to hear argument in Coats v. Dish Network, L.L.C., about an employee’s right to use medical marijuana during non-work hours, and the employer’s right to test for the drug and discipline users. At issue is the right of an employee to use medically prescribed marijuana to help with painful spasms when he/she is not at work. Dish Network contends that it should not have to retain employees whose marijuana use violates federal law and whose performance as a result of their marijuana use could be an issue.
In New Jersey, a similar battle is being fought at Princeton University. Don DeZarn, a veteran of the U.S. Navy and senior operations manager of campus dining, was put on paid medical leave at the end of the summer as he and the University worked to decide what accommodations could be made for his medical marijuana use. DeZarn, a self-described marijuana “activist”, uses marijuana to relieve post-traumatic stress disorder and inflammatory bowel disease. He argues that he should be able to “medicate” himself while on campus. The University contends he could pose a potential safety risk if he were high while performing his job.
In New Jersey, unlike in Colorado, marijuana is illegal. In 2010, then-Governor Jon Corzine signed the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, permitting the use of medical marijuana for those with illnesses serious enough that a doctor would be willing to prescribe it. However, the law carves out an exception for employers that employers are not required to “accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace.” Obviously, many employers, including Dish Network and Princeton University, are concerned about the ability of employees to perform their work in a competent manner while under the influence of marijuana. Although it remains to be seen what happens to Brandon Coats and Dish Network in Colorado, it appears that New Jersey has already made its position clear, firmly siding with employers on this issue.
If you have questions about marijuana use and drug testing in the workplace, seek legal counsel from one of our skilled employment law attorneys. We are ready to help.