Louisiana Bill Could Protect State Employees Who Use Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana
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BATON ROUGE (The Center Square) — Louisiana state employees who use medical marijuana could soon gain new employment protections under a bill that recently cleared the House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations.

Committee members voted unanimously on Thursday to approve House Bill 988, sponsored by Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, to protect state employees who legally use medical marijuana on the advice of their doctor.

HB 988 states: “No state employer shall subject an employee or prospective employee to negative employment consequences based solely on a positive drug test for marijuana, marijuana components, including tetrahydrocannabinols, or marijuana metabolites if the employee or prospective employee has been clinically diagnosed as suffering from a debilitating medical condition and a licensed physician has recommended marijuana for therapeutic use by the employee in accordance with state law.”

“This state has expanded its medical marijuana program several times over the years, is regulating it, is receiving income on it, but we do not yet have any protections for any employees, or really any regulation for any employees in the state who have a (medical marijuana) card,” Landry told the committee.

“This is a very first baby step for the state to adopt a further regime of what to do with people who work in this state who have a medical marijuana card and have trouble with certain jobs and certain career paths.”

Landry acknowledged exceptions in the bill for law enforcement, public safety officials, and firefighters, though she said some in those fields have contacted her to advocate for protections, as well.

“I have always received, and received this week, messages through a variety of channels from firefighters and veterans who really would like for something like this in some manner to be worked out,” she said. “There are a lot of people who don’t want to take opioids for their long-term PTSD and pain management because of the high possibility of addiction to opioids, and this has proved to be a better option.”

Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs, argued that the Department of Administration should be creating policies that protect employees who use medical marijuana, rather than lawmakers, but said he’s supporting HB 988 because it’s not.

“This is something I don’t think should be in law. It should be a policy,” he said. “But … because we’re not getting the job done, I’m going to agree with Rep. Landry and we’re going to move this.”

Landry noted that the bill is specifically drafted to give state agencies latitude with how they deal with employees who legally use medical marijuana, but makes it clear working under the influence is unacceptable.

HB 988 states the protections “shall not be construed to prohibit the imposition of negative employment consequences on an employee who uses or is impaired by marijuana on the premises of the employer or during work hours.”

“The impairment part hones in on the fact that if you are impaired on the job, whether it’s marijuana or alcohol, the same conditions apply to you,” she said. “It’s sort of a specific protection for the employment agencies that someone can’t say, ‘well, I can smoke at work because it’s medical.’

“This kind of to me approaches the two largest issues of discrimination and impairment at work from a broader perspective, while giving the agencies the freedom on how they implement it in practice.”

Representatives from multiple veterans advocacy groups and the Marijuana Policy Project testified in favor of the bill, touting the benefits of marijuana as an “exit strategy” for opioid addiction.

HB 988 now moves to the full House for consideration.

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