Drug testing at work problematic for medical marijuana patients

Legislation would protect state workers from drug tests

By: - May 13, 2022 3:11 pm
Person rolling a marijuana joint

Despite the relaxation of marijuana laws in Louisiana over the last five years, registered nurses still face serious career risks if they use the drug for recreational or, in some cases, medicinal purposes. (Canva image)

State agencies in Louisiana could soon be prohibited from firing workers who use medical marijuana. 

The Louisiana House Labor Committee will consider a bill next week that would prohibit the state from subjecting employees or prospective employees to any negative consequences based solely on a positive drug test for marijuana if the worker uses the drug on the recommendation of a physician. 

House Bill 988, sponsored by Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, would not apply to private employers or local government, including law enforcement agencies. Landry said her bill is unlikely to survive the powerful business and law enforcement lobbyists in the State Capitol, so she limited it to public employers at the state level. 

“This would basically be a first step to having laws on the books to protect people who have medical marijuana cards,” Landry said.

Landry said medical marijuana patients are still being terminated from jobs or turned away as job candidates due to drug testing. 

“The companies that do the testing don’t know what to do with a positive marijuana result so they send it to the agency, and from what I understand, each situation is handled individually,” she said.

Medical marijuana became legal in Louisiana in 2016, but the program has gotten off to a slow start. Prices for the drug remain inflated far beyond street value as lawmakers continue to sort through regulatory bottlenecks, nuanced legal ambiguities and employment regulations surrounding drug tests.

The legalization law initially required doctors to hold a special license in order to prescribe the drug. Lawmakers later removed the special license requirement and changed the word “prescribe” to “recommend,” bypassing any red tape from the State Board of Medical Examiners.  

Now, any licensed physician in good standing can treat patients with medicinal cannabis by writing a recommendation that the patient can take to a dispensary, though the law still only provides for 10 pharmacy licenses to dispense it and only nine licenses have been issued.

Only the academic agriculture centers at LSU and Southern University, alongside their private contractors, are authorized to grow and cultivate the plant to supply the dispensaries. 

One of the biggest chokepoints has been the testing and approval of cannabis products before they are sold to dispensaries and any equipment used to cultivate, process or prepare those products. Currently, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry issues all cultivation licenses and tests all cannabis products before they can be sold. 

Frustrated by the slow rollout, House lawmakers have introduced bills to transfer that licensing authority to the Louisiana Department of Health and remove the limit on cultivation licenses. One of those bills, by Rep. Tanner Magee, cleared the House and is pending in the Senate.

Other legislation would expand the number of pharmacy licenses from 10 to 20. That bill remains pending on the House floor calendar.

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Among his recognitions are McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association. Muller is an alumnus of Jesuit High School and the University of New Orleans and is a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Louisiana with his wife and two sons.

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