HARRISBURG - On April 18, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed SB 3, making Pennsylvania the 24th state in the country to legalize medical marijuana.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Mike Folmer, passed the House of Representatives on April 13 in a vote of 149-46 and will soon go into effect.
The law forbids smoking marijuana but allows for marijuana pills, oils, ointments, liquid, and vapor to treat 17 medical conditions, including cancer, Parkinson's disease, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and sickle cell anemia. Pennsylvania will be the first state to allow medical marijuana as a treatment for all types of autism and the 11th state to authorize the drug to treat PTSD.
“Each medical marijuana state law has its strengths and weaknesses,” Becky Dansky, a legislative analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based Medical Marijuana Project, recently told the Pennsylvania Record.
“Considering that the Pennsylvania General Assembly is controlled by Republicans in both chambers, this is a surprisingly strong bill. It creates the strong foundation for Pennsylvania's program, which will only become stronger as the governor and Department of Health are able to implement the program.”
The Pennsylvania medical marijuana raises questions about how employing patients using medical marijuana could impact the workplace.
“Employers do not have to make any accommodation of the use of medical marijuana,” said Dansky. ”An employer cannot discriminate against an employee or applicant if they are certified to use medical marijuana. Medical marijuana patients may not be discriminated against for their status as registered patients.”
Dansky adds that the law does not restrict an employer from disciplining an employee who is under the influence of medical marijuana when the employee’s conduct is below the standard for the employee’s position.
Employers will need to consider certain restrictions.
“Employers may prohibit patients who are employees from performing a task while under the influence of marijuana that the employer deems life-threatening to the employee or other employees,” Dansky said. This includes prohibiting employees using medical marijuana from performing mining or any other employment duties at heights or in confined spaces.
In addition, patients who have in their blood more than 10 nanograms per milliliter of THC — the chemical responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects — may not operate or be in physical control of chemicals that require a federal or state permit, high-voltage electricity, or other public utility.
The Pennsylvania law does not require an employer to take any action violating federal law.
Employers and applicants who use medical marijuana are not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Currently, there are no federal protections for medical marijuana patients,” Dansky said. “Hopefully, now that more than half of the people living in the U.S. live in a state where medical marijuana is legal, Congress and the federal government will hopefully work to change the outdated policies.”
Dansky believes that it's important that patients and employers understand that a state’s medical marijuana program is designed to work for everyone.
“While employees are protected from unfair discrimination based on their medical treatment, employers are able to maintain the same standards for workplace performance,” she said.
“And that should be the way employers approach this issue. Unless there is some legitimate decline in the employee's performance, it should not change anything.”