Marijuana Panel Rolls Out Recommendations to Protect Workers

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NEW ORLEANS — A panel that has spent months debating policy ideas to protect workers who use medical marijuana concluded the bulk of its work Thursday, approving more than a dozen recommendations to the Louisiana Legislature. 

Thursday marked the last meeting of the Employment and Medical Marijuana Task Force, a group created through a study resolution authored by Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, after workers in Louisiana raised concerns that they could be fired or face other job-related repercussions for testing positive for a drug the state has legalized for medicinal purposes.

Nearly all of the recommendations received support from an overwhelming majority of the task force members but faced opposition from Troy Prevot, a member who represents one of the most influential lobby groups at the State Capitol, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). 

Prevot, a physician’s assistant who operates an employment drug testing clinic in Baton Rouge, said the recommendations might create more confusion on an issue that is already challenging for businesses. 

Currently, employers and employee groups can get together and negotiate workplace drug policies. Any attempts to legislate the issue might get in the way of that, Prevot said. 

“I think we’re going to go down a path of more confusion,” Prevot said. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m having trouble with this.”

In an 11-2 vote, the task force voted to recommend, among other things, that employers cannot discriminate, refuse to hire or impose consequences on employees based solely upon their past or present status as a qualifying medical marijuana patient.

Ten other recommendations passed along the same 11-2 split. Joining Prevot in opposition was Dennis Juge, an attorney who specializes in workers’ compensation litigation. 

Juge said he doesn’t believe the government has the right to impose workplace drug policies and other restrictions on private businesses. 

“I do think that there is a problem with government stepping in and deciding what kind of relationship the employer and employee ought to have,” Juge said. “It really is a philosophical problem that I have with this.” 

The task force also approved a number of recommendations to protect employers, including a measure that would allow employers to sanction or impose consequences on workers who use or possess marijuana while on duty. Prevot and Juge opposed those, too. 

However, Prevot did support a recommendation that medical marijuana patients may not be deemed impaired based solely on a positive drug test for marijuana — a measure he argued for in previous meetings. 

Another recommendation that passed with an 11-2 vote proposes that medical marijuana recommendations from authorized clinicians “shall be considered recommended for a legitimate medical purpose.”

Only one measure received unanimous approval – a recommendation to adopt a card program for medical marijuana patients. Task force chairman Kevin Caldwell, who represents the Marijuana Policy Project, said Louisiana is the only medical marijuana state that doesn’t issue identification cards to patients who use the drug.

The original measure would have called for the state to adopt a card program, but last-minute debate led task force members to punt the issue to another panel. The recommendation, as approved, calls on the Medical Marijuana Commission to consider adopting a card program for patients. 

The Louisiana Department of Health will present the recommendations to the legislature on behalf of the task force prior to the 2023 regular session that starts in April.

By Wesley Muller for the Louisiana Illuminator

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