The New Jersey Legislature is poised to hold the first-ever hearing on legislation clarifying employment protections for medical marijuana patients. The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee hearing is scheduled for Monday, December 21st at 1PM in the New Jersey State House Annex Committee Room 1. The Legislation, Senate Bill 3162, is sponsored by Senator Nicholas Scutari (DMiddlesex/Somerset/Union) and Senator Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex).
Advocates applaud the legislation. "Medical marijuana patients in New Jersey are in a state of limbo and fear. They fear being fired from their jobs for using medical marijuana even though it is legal under New Jersey law," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "No individual and no family should be punished for following their doctor's order and the laws of their state."
A number of high profile lawsuits in New Jersey and other states have involved medical marijuana patients who were terminated from employment for using medical marijuana and the law as it stands is unclear. Advocates say that the patient protections included in the New Jersey's Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (CUMMA) are stronger than those in other state medical marijuana laws. In keeping with the oft-stated intent of the legislature to make the CUMMA a national model, the legislature needs to clarify those protections.
For patients, in addition to protection from any criminal penalties for possession and use of medical marijuana, the CUMMA provides that "A qualifying patient, primary caregiver, alternative treatment center, physician, or any other person acting in accordance with the provisions of this act shall not be subject to any civil or administrative penalty, or denied any right or privilege, including, but not limited to, civil penalty or disciplinary action by a professional licensing board, related to the medical use of marijuana as authorized under this act." (emphasis added).
For employers, the CUMMA states that "Nothing in this act shall be construed to require a government medical assistance program or private health insurer to reimburse a person for costs associated with the medical use of marijuana, or an employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace." (emphasis added)
Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Middlesex, Somerset and Union), who drafted and sponsored the CUMMA, has introduced the new legislation Senate Bill 3162 clarifies that patients do have employment protections and cannot be penalized or fired because of their use of medical marijauana.
"It was not the intent of the legislature when we passed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act to allow patients to lose their jobs simply because of their use of medical marijuana," says Scutari. "Medical marijuana should be treated like any other legitimate medication use by an employee."
Senate Bill 3162 still prohibits medical marijuana use in the workplace but protects patients for use outside the workplace. The legislation states that, "Unless an employer establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that the lawful use of medical marijuana has impaired the employee's ability to perform the employee's job responsibilities, it shall be unlawful to take any adverse employment action against an employee who is a qualified registered patient using medical marijuana consistent with the provisions [of the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act]."
Advocates say that the bill balances the rights of patients and employers and provides clear guidance to both. They are urging the members of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee tovote favorably on this crucial legislation.