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Medical Marijuana as A Workers Comp Treatment: Seriously?

Medical Marijuana as A Workers Comp Treatment: Seriously?

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Could medical marijuana really become a government-approved treatment for workers injured on the job?

Now that a California court has left the door open for that possibility, some experts think it's only a matter of time. Which raises the specter of all kinds of interesting dilemmas for workers and employers: what if an injured employee uses medical marijuana approved by his or her worker's comp doctor – and then fails a drug test?

Writing in the Workers Comp Insider blog (a fine source for health-in-the-workplace story ideas), Lynch Ryan examines these issues and provides a nice road map for reporters interested in exploring this topic.

Clearly, medical marijuana is an issue that requires attention from any employers who have employees in affected states. And judging by the trend, it's something all employers may want to think about, starting now. Above and beyond complex issues such as workers comp, there are some immediate employment issues that come to mind: Can employers refuse to hire someone who is authorized by the state to use medical marijuana?

Can an authorized medical marijuana user be fired for flunking a drug test? And if fired, can an employee file a discrimination suit under ADA? How do drug testing programs handle positive results for authorized users? And if marijuana is not considered an illicit substance due to medical authorization, how do zero tolerance programs need to adjust for this? How do employers authenticate those who are authorized to use marijuana versus those who are not authorized?

It's bound to become a local or state issue at some point, with 14 states including California allowing medical marijuana use and thousands of people in those states (many of them presumably employed) signing up for medical marijuana registration cards. Medical marijuana in the workplace already has become an issue in Colorado, where two conflicting state laws put employers in a bind.

If you're interested in covering medical marijuana as a workers' comp or workplace issue, here are some resources and previous stories that may help as you start your on-the-ground reporting.

1. ReportingonHealth's Useful Resources Guide on medical marijuana provides a good overview of credible online information.

2. A recent story published in the Los Angeles Times, "Medical marijuana creates workplace dilemma," lays out some interesting issues.  

3. This National Law Journal article also offers a perspective on what lawyers are hearing from their employer clients who want to know what their rights are in dealing with employees who use medical marijuana.

4. This Colorado attorney offers legal advice on the rights of employers dealing with medical marijuana users in that state.  

Have you seen any good coverage of this issue? If so, share it in the comments below along with your thoughts. Share your thoughts in the comments below. You need to be a registered member of Center for Health Journalism Digital to leave a comment, so if you haven't joined yet, click here. It's easy, quick and free. You can follow us on Twitter, too, @ReportingHealth.

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