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New Jersey medical marijuana rule at odds with employment law

U.S. Code 21:13-812 is the Controlled Substances Act, which declares the use of marijuana is illegal and conflicts with laws in states like New Jersey where medical marijuana use is permissible. State law protects Bergen County medical marijuana users from criminal charges. There's no guarantee the statute will save a medical marijuana patient's job.

Employer policies are not required to accommodate or tolerate a worker's use of marijuana, even if the employee is a registered medical marijuana patient. The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal law and in line with federal policies that outlaw marijuana use. So, are the jobs of all New Jersey medical marijuana users at risk?

A new case filed against NJ Transit is expected to explore the limits of the marijuana statute. A worker with advanced kidney failure said he was forced to seek a new job within the agency after getting "bumped" from a clerk position. NJ Transit knew the employee was a legal marijuana user, who used prescription pot for pain caused by nerve damage.

The 57-year-old man sought a new "safety-sensitive" block operator job that required a medical exam and drug screening. The employee told a company medical director he was willing to take a job that was not safety-sensitive, if the marijuana use was an issue. The worker's drug test came back positive for marijuana in December.

The man was suspended from the company without pay and ordered into a drug rehab program. The lawsuit claims NJ Transit mistreated and failed to accommodate the worker's disability. The company stated its drug testing policies are designed for workplace safety and align with federal regulations.

Historically, most employment law conflicts over legal marijuana use have favored employers. For now, it appears individuals with rights to use medical marijuana will not be prosecuted for a crime but may be barred from at least some employment opportunities.

Source: The Star-Ledger, "NJ Transit sued for suspending employee in medical marijuana program" Susan K. Livio, Apr. 04, 2014

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