While recreational marijuana has been put on hold in New Jersey, medical marijuana - which is legal - has been expanded by the New Jersey Legislature.
And it may cause big safety risks in the workplace.
The new legislation expands the medical marijuana program ensuring greater patient access, add eligible conditions more rapidly, remove barriers for minors with serious medical conditions and increase supplies of the products. The new rules will also reduce the registration fee for qualifying patients and their caregivers from $200 to $100.
But doctors and employers remain wary.
In a statement by Lawrence Downs, chief executive officer of the Medical Society of New Jersey, it is clear that physicians are taking a cautious approach.
“We support physicians having the alternative and ability to prescribe marijuana to their patients as a therapeutic option. However, most physicians would never see medical marijuana as a first line treatment for any disorder’ he says.
Downs said if patients are failing on certain medications and not responding to treatment, then marijuana could be viewed as a therapeutic option that physicians should be able to consider for the treatment of their patients, in the course of a bona fide relationship and within a medical model.
“As far as the expanded number of conditions that are right for physicians to prescribe, we think that it has gone a little off the rails” he adds.
And John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey notes that employees using medical marijuana may cause liability issues.
“Despite the widespread wave of marijuana legalization in the United States, marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law. However, the federal government has generally chosen not to prosecute those who possess and distribute marijuana in compliance with state laws. Thus, marijuana inhabits an in-between zone of legality: legal and illegal at the same time.” he says.
The new legislation provides, for the first time, job protection for medical marijuana users.
It says that unless 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 an employee can not be disciplined for testing positive on a drug test.
This legal protection also applies to job applicants.
The law requires that an employer establish “specific articulable symptoms’ of impairment before taking action, says Sarno.
Sarno thinks that the main source of liability will arise out of medical marijuana users that perform safety sensitive jobs.
“Assessing marijuana impairment is complicated. Oral fluid testing is currently the best practice, as it can detect recent marijuana use, exclude long-past use, and do so with a noninvasive test. But under the pending legal standard, an employer will still be required to prove observable symptoms. Big, big risk” he says.
Sarno will be providing a Medical Marijuana Update at two meetings on June 7th and 11th. More information here.