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This Bernie Sanders Bill Could Help Patients Keep Their Jobs

If it passes, Bernie Sanders' senate bill to repeal the federal prohibition of cannabis would right so many wrongs. Susan Sagarin of Bloomberg BNA highlighted a really important one in a recent column: it would save the jobs of people currently tested, and subsequently fired for cannabis use.

On Nov. 4, Sanders proposed to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, which means that states would then be allowed to regulate and tax marijuana like tobacco and alcohol.

Sagarin says it may also change drug-testing policies in American offices.

"For employers in safety-sensitive or federally-regulated workplaces, it is reasonable to assume that legalization of marijuana would have little impact on existing drug-testing requirements," she wrote. "Private employers in general industry, however, might have to navigate murkier waters."

Currently, many employers have mandatory drug-testing policies that enable them to fire employees who test positive for cannabis use. This is true even in states that have legalized recreational, as well as medicinal cannabis use.

Medical users have been fired for testing positive

In 2010, Brandon Coats, a resident of Colorado who is quadriplegic, was fired when he tested positive for cannabis, which he used for medicinal purposes. Even though his employer - Dish Network - admitted that Coats was never inebriated at work, the company fired him as part of their "zero tolerance" policy toward drug use.

In June 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously upheld the firing. They claimed that an activity must be lawful under both state and federal law in order to be permissible. Translation: Colorado's laws regarding medical marijuana don't protect patients from being fired so long as cannabis remains illegal federally.

Courts in Washington and Oregon also uphold federal law in these cases. The issue hasn't come up in Alaska yet, but its laws similarly allow employers to fire employees for using cannabis, regardless of circumstance.

But if Sanders' bill is passed, the federal ban will be lifted. Sagarin says that opens the door for patients and even recreational users to challenge drug-testing policies. The bill won't end drug testing because it doesn't specifically address that issue, but it will equip patients with the tools to fight for their jobs in the courts.

h/t Bloomberg BNA, ADN, The Guardian, Huffington Post


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