Workplace protections for medical marijuana users: FL lawmakers, advocates hope to pass 2020 law

By: - January 6, 2020 4:28 pm

Marijuana leaves. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

As medical marijuana use continues to gain popularity in Florida, advocates and lawmakers want to ensure that qualified patients in the workplace won’t get in trouble if they use the drug as a treatment.

Patients who need the drug could be considered fearful of personnel action if marijuana is found in their system. That’s why lawmakers want to be sure patients are protected, even after voters approved a constitutional amendment on medical marijuana in 2016.

“Medical marijuana is the law of land in the state of Florida,” Dr. Rich Templin, Florida AFL-CIO’s politics and public policy director, said in a phone conversation with the Florida Phoenix.

Bills filed in the Florida House and Senate for the 2020 legislative session say that employees who are licensed medical marijuana patients would be protected from discrimination or reprimand based on using weed for medicinal purposes.

Specifically, the legislation summary states that employers would be prohibited from taking “adverse personnel action” against employees or job applicants who are licensed users.

Lawmakers will be pursuing the legislation in the upcoming session starting Jan. 14. The bills exclude protection to users who hold “safety-sensitive” positions or if determined that using marijuana will adversely affect their job performance.

Outlined in the bill, “safety-sensitive” is defined as “tasks or duties of a job which the employer reasonably believes could affect the safety and health of the employee performing the tasks or duties.”

Templin, of the AFL-CIO, said, “This was an absolutely vital step to protect that constitutional right.”

“We think these bills are a vital and great first step, we do think there is going to have to be a fair amount of robust discussion about how to fully flesh it out and hope that the Republican leadership in both chambers will realize the importance of these bills and give them a priority.”

And an employer would be required to provide written notice to employees who test positive within five days of the drug test results, allowing employees to give an explanation.

Sen. Lori Berman, a Delray Beach Democrat, filed HB 595; and Democratic Rep. Tina Polsky, who represents parts of Palm Beach county, filed SB 962.

It’s unclear how the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative, known as Amendment 2, has been implemented in Florida’s workforce, bill sponsors argue.

State Rep. Tina Polsky, a Democrat representing part of Palm Beach County. Credit: Florida House of Representatives.

“Right now, there is no guidance for employers as they deal with this new medical marijuana system,” said Polsky in a written statement. “This legislation would provide crucial guidelines for employers and protect employees from being discriminated against for their legal use of marijuana.”

Templin does feel that the legislation may run into some opposition from lawmakers but remains hopeful that an agreement will be reached.

“Anytime there is a perceived loss of power by businesses, especially the big business lobby, there’s going to be resistance,” he said.

“We want to call on Republican leadership to allow these bills to be heard so that we can find a solution that will hopefully satisfy everybody.”

Some organizations in Florida are more focused on maintaining a drug-free workplace and ensuring the safety of employees.

“The Florida Chamber of Commerce has long-supported job creators having the ability to maintain drug free workplaces, and we continue to stand up in support of ensuring employers can continue that, if it’s in the best interest of the safety of their employees,” said Edie Ousley, vice president of public affair at the Florida Chamber of Commerce. She provided a written statement to the Phoenix.

However, the statement doesn’t specifically say that the Chamber supports the legislation being proposed on medical marijuana use in the workplace.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.