Does PA Law Protect Employees In The Medical Marijauna Program?

coffe cup wit hcannabis logo on a work desk

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In the last several years, the cannabis industry has become more normalized. It’s exciting to keep adding to the list of states that finally allow the legal consumption of either medicinal or recreational marijuana use. 

Still, there is a lot of work to do before cannabis is federally legal. As of now, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) still considers cannabis to be a Schedule I controlled substance. 

Fortunately, Pennsylvania has at least legalized medical marijuana for eligible citizens. If you’re interested in getting your medical marijuana license, you might have some questions. 

What about cannabis in the workplace, for instance? Do employers have the right to fire you if you have your medical card? Are you allowed to consume cannabis while on the job?

If you find yourself facing a positive drug screen, it is essentially up to your employer as to whether they decide to retain or terminate employment. Typically it is based on their individual company drug policy.

So, let’s discuss that. What does this mean for you?

And let me personally welcome you to your complete guide to Pennsylvania laws pertaining to workers with medical marijuana cards. 

The Purpose of Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana (MMJ)

Cannabis has been used by humans for a variety of purposes for thousands of years. Originally, the plant was farmed to be a hemp-based material for clothing, ropes, and other tools. Soon after, we discovered its medicinal properties and took advantage of them. 

For so long, cannabis consumption wasn’t taboo or illegal. It was until the 1940’s that the stigma surrounding cannabis led to its criminalization. Thanks to California in 1996, state-level medicinal (and sometimes recreational) use of the plant has become more widely accepted. 

So, how can cannabis benefit your health? We’re actually still researching and discovering many ways that cannabis can aid in our overall health and wellness. But so far, the possibilities seem endless.

Common conditions treated by cannabis:

If you have a health issue that you struggle with managing, a medical marijuana specialist can assist in your healing journey.

Legalizing Medical Marijuana in Pennsylvania

On April 17, 2016, the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act was signed. If you were to Google, “Is marijuana legal in Pennsylvania 2022?” the answer would be affirmative.

Citizens across the state were excited to use cannabis to treat their various ailments, although it took a couple of years before they had access to it. 

It wasn’t until 2018, when the state’s first dispensaries opened to licensed medical marijuana patients. Since that time, there have been hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who have been granted their medical cards. 

Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana industry, in the first year alone, grossed $132 million in sales, and that number just keeps growing yearly.

Not only is this great for the local economy. It also means that more and more patients can treat their health conditions holistically.

Who Can Qualify for the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program?

Laws and regulations surrounding cannabis consumption exist to promote everyone’s health and safety. Although some states recognize out-of-state medical marijuana licenses when patients travel through, Pennsylvania does not. The state of Pennsylvania allows only PA residents.

Patients with specific documented health issues can apply for their medical card with the proper documentation in as little as one day.

There are 23 approved health conditions.  Anxiety and chronic pain being the most commonly treated ailments. Other approved health conditions include PTSD, Parkinson’s Disease, Cancer, and Epilepsy.

A doctor will have to sign off on your application indicating that you have one of these conditions. You can submit your application to the state for a fee of $50 but if you receive financial assistance from the state, they will waive this fee.

It’s worth noting that medical marijuana is not covered by health insurance. The state offers a financial assistance program to help patients get their medicine, though. 

Does PA law protect employees in the medical marijuana program from being rejected or fired?

Let’s say you do get your medical marijuana license. You’ve been practicing safe cannabis consumption habits. Now, you’re looking to apply for a new job and are curious about if and how you can get hired as a medical marijuana patient. 

Fortunately, being a licensed medical marijuana patient cannot be a reason to prevent your employment. Employers are not allowed to practice any kind of discrimination against patients during the hiring process. 

During your interview, your potential employer is allowed and may ask whether you have your medical card. Don’t let this discourage you. There is typically innocent reasoning behind this question. Using the answer to deny you the position, though, would be illegal discrimination. 

Rather, they might just want to know about your medical card so that they can inform you of the workplace drug policies. These policies allow employers to ensure a safe work environment.

If you’re comfortable enough, you might want to ask about the workplace drug policies yourself so that you know what to expect. 

Laws About Cannabis in the Workplace

Let’s say that you do get hired at that new position you applied for. Know that PA employment laws do provide legal protection for you as you maintain your employment there. That doesn’t mean you have complete freedom when it comes to cannabis consumption, though. 

pa woman with cannabis on workdesk

It’s important to know the difference between employer discrimination and workplace drug policies. Indeed, your employer can’t hire, threaten, or fire you based on you having your medical card. That would be discrimination, and you might have a legal case on your hands. 

Simultaneously, every employer is allowed to establish their own workplace drug policy. In most cases, these policies prohibit the use or the influence of cannabis while employees are on the job. This is especially true for job positions that require the operation of heavy equipment.

Employers who discover workers under the influence while on the clock do have the right to fire them. There’s no legal requirement that says they have to allow for your consistent medication while on the job. 

There’s Still a Gray Area within Workplace Cannabis Laws

State governments all across the country are still coming to terms with the legalization of either recreational or medical marijuana. Since it’s illegal on a federal level (for the time being), some of the laws surrounding cannabis consumption have a gray area. 

For instance, Pennsylvania employers do have the right to conduct random or announced drug tests. There’s not always a clear legal path to take concerning the results of these drug tests, though. Perhaps your employer would simply use a positive test result to prohibit you from doing certain high-risk tasks on the job, which would be legal and fair. 

The state does have some strict rules about drug test results. These rules apply to job roles that could “result in a public health or safety risk.” Examples include working with dangerous chemicals or high-voltage electricity.

Patients in these roles cannot have more than 10 nanograms of THC per millimeter of blood. If you work in a field that might apply to this law, you might want to be more conscious about your cannabis use.

Reporting Employer Discrimination

It should be comforting to know that employers are legally prohibited from discrimination based on cannabis use during your free time. Still, not every employer throughout the state has followed these laws.

There have already been stories in Pennsylvania news outlets about this. One worker’s medical marijuana card slipped out of his pocket, for which he was immediately fired. Another medical marijuana patient was fired after simply admitting that he legally consumed outside of working hours.

These stories can seem frustrating, but it’s also just part of the growing process. The PA MMJ industry is still so new that even lawmakers are getting used to handling matters like these. 

If you feel like you experienced discrimination in the workplace based on your legal cannabis consumption, you might want to talk with a lawyer. They’ll be able to tell you whether you have a legitimate legal case to bring to the courts. 

Tips to Protect Yourself As A Patient In The Workplace

As the cannabis industry continues to grow, we must be patient. As lawmakers and employers are doing their best to navigate the best practices for workers who have their medical marijuana cards, there is still a lot to hash out.

It’s wise to take some precautionary measures when you’re at work. One good practice is to avoid bringing in your medicine to work – even hidden in your bag. 

Also, don’t feel too free to talk about your cannabis use, even if you only consume legally after work hours. The stigma surrounding cannabis can still affect your position in the workplace where you least expect it.

If you are confronted about legal cannabis use by your employer, here’s a good tip. Center the conversation around your disability or medical condition that benefits from cannabis treatment. That way, you’re positioning cannabis as an aid to your workplace productivity, not a detriment.

Other Laws About Cannabis Use You Should Know About

The first time you visit a dispensary, you might notice that some forms of cannabis aren’t available. Pennsylvania does not allow patients to smoke the dried cannabis flower or purchase THC-filled edibles. The state prefers instead that patients consume cannabis in a vaporized form.

Perhaps you’re a likely candidate for the medical marijuana program, but you have a limiting disability. You would need a caregiver to retrieve your cannabis medication on your behalf. (They might find this map of Pennsylvania dispensaries useful, too.)

The good news is that this is legal under Pennsylvania law. Your caregiver, as long as they’re over 21 years old, can apply for a special application to be able to retrieve your medicine.

The Pennsylvania state laws regulating the medical marijuana industry are ever-changing. It’s your responsibility to stay informed and follow the laws accordingly. 

Keep Your Doctor in the Loop

If you’re still not sure if medical marijuana is right for you, talk with your doctor. They’ll have more insight into your medical background. They might recommend using cannabis to improve your existing health conditions. 

As you start medicating with cannabis, continue that conversation with them. Let them know about any side effects or benefits that you’ve experienced. (Of course, if you’re having any emergency, call 911 immediately.)

Continue to Stay Informed About the Cannabis Industry

The legalization of cannabis is ever-evolving. Laws keep getting updated on both the state and federal levels. The stigma surrounding this plant-based medicine continues to diminish, but it’s still there. 

The best thing the cannabis community can do for now is to stay educated. Be willing to research and learn about how cannabis actually works within our bodies. How do its side effects compare to those of drinking alcohol?

There are useful educational resources about cannabis online that you should keep up with. When we’re armed with this kind of knowledge, we can contribute to a more positive societal outlook.

If you’re comfortable, consider opening up a dialogue about cannabis use with your friends and family members. What fears might people share about cannabis legalization? Working through these concerns can help everyone feel more confident in the healing power of cannabis. 

Join the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program Today

While the medical marijuana industry in Pennsylvania is new, it’s growing all the time. There are so many dispensaries that offer high-quality medicinal products you might be able to benefit from. 

If you’re interested in getting your medical card, you’ve come to the right place. If you qualify for the program, you deserve to try and improve your overall quality of life with nature’s miracle plant. Just remember to be smart about having cannabis in the workplace. We’re happy to help guide you through joining this program. Start by learning more about getting your medical marijuana card today


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