The legalization of marijuana has long been a controversial topic, as people have been arguing for and against its medicinal and recreational use for years.
California started the charge toward legalization in 1996, and over two decades later, several other states have followed suit. Twenty nine U.S. states currently allow for the legal use of medicinal marijuana, eight of which permit its recreational use, as well.
As of legislation passed in 2016, Pennsylvania falls into the former category. Yet, while the possession of a medical marijuana card is now legal in Pennsylvania, workers have found that the use of cannabis is not.
According to a three-month investigation conducted by Spotlight PA, individuals employed in the state have been penalized in the workplace for using the prescribed drug.
An employee in Northumberland County was demoted after his medical marijuana card fell out of his wallet during the workday and an Allentown warehouse worker using medical cannabis was terminated after failing a drug test.
Fighting these penalties takes time and financial resources, both of which many workers don’t have.
Many of these conflicts are caused by the law’s lack of clarity for both employees and employers.
The state’s law gives employers the right to prohibit workers “from performing any duty which could result in a public health or safety risk while under the influence of medical marijuana,” an ambiguous clause that can be interpreted subjectively.
What exactly qualifies as a “public health or safety risk?”
Many companies require that employees take frequent drug tests to ensure that they are not impaired on the job. This request is valid, as The National Institute of Drug Abuse indicates that cannabis can impair one’s judgment, coordination and balance.
However, the law doesn’t offer protection for employees who test positive on a drug test but weren’t impaired on the job, adding another layer of uncertainty.
Marijuana can stay present in the body for days or weeks after its use, and a positive drug test result doesn’t indicate whether one was experiencing drug induced impairment while working.
That being said, there is ultimately no way for employers to distinguish between a recreational and a medicinal cannabis user.
Of course, having a “medical marijuana” card could help, but it is impossible for an employer to identify the motivation for employees’ usage.
Those reliant on marijuana as a form of pain relief should not be penalized for the use of a medicinal drug, especially one the state has deemed legal.
As of August 2021, the Department of Health noted that 633,000 patients and caregivers were registered in Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program, many of whom now must choose between their paychecks and pain relief. That choice seems incredibly unfair.
The state seems to be trying to maintain a balancing act of sorts. Though Pennsylvania lawmakers made strides by legalizing the drug medicinally, prohibiting people from actually using it defeats its purpose.
With one foot in the door and one foot out of it, the state’s policy is unclear.
And, in addition to these laws being vague, they are also easy to work around.
There is a dispensary in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, located just 20 minutes away from Lehigh’s campus, that sells THC products.
Though the Philipsburg dispensary is located in New Jersey, not Pennsylvania, it is easily accessible to people in the Lehigh Valley and doesn’t require a state identification for purchase.
Evident by the prevalence of underage drinking, it is clear that substance laws have loopholes. Regardless of whether the use of recreational marijuana is “legal,” those who want access to cannabis will find a way.
Whether it be borrowing a friend’s medical card or resorting to the “THC black market,” vague laws are unlikely to prevent people who want access from seeking out and obtaining marijuana.
And those resorting to these more “underground” methods of access are at higher risk.
With THC oil becoming harder to find, black market cannabis providers often use thickening agents to dilute vape cartridges. Many sellers introduce harmful contaminants in these cartridges, as well.
While profitable, these shortcuts are putting users’ safety at risk. In 2019, the Center for Disease Control issued a warning acknowledging a correlation between severe respiratory diseases and the use of e-cigarette products, advising people not to purchase e-cigarettes with THC “off the street.”
We are at the point where cannabis users will find access to the drug, whether it be legally or illicitly.
Given that over half a million Pennsylvania residents have already been granted medical marijuana cards, it is far too late for the state to impose new limitations for these users.
Legalizing the use of cannabis in its entirety will not only help medical marijuana users in the workplace, but will encourage safe usage among other demographics as well.