In June 2014, Governor Rick Scott signed the “Florida Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014”, which gave the authority to qualified physicians in Florida to prescribe a low-THC strain of marijuana to patients with chronic seizures. While this law has yet to see its first prescription filled, in November 2015, the Florida Legislature identified the five dispensaries which would begin growing, harvesting and dispensing the drug. In November 2014, a much broader Florida Constitutional Amendment narrowly missed its mark of 60% ballot approval. This same initiative is expected to be on the 2016 ballot and most analysts believe it will easily pass.
So what does this mean for Floridians if a broader measure is enacted? Well, as seen across the US, patients with chronic pain, terminal illness and a variety of other conditions will have access to prescriptions for medical-grade marijuana. Many of these patients are unable to work or severely disabled, and some are not. Some patients will be truck drivers, construction workers, bankers and even surgeons. Some of these patients who are in the workforce, will still be subject to periodic drug screenings and zero tolerance drug policies.
As of now, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) still lists marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance. The DEA definition of a Schedule I drug is “substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.” Marijuana, LSD, Heroin and Ecstasy are all Schedule I drugs. Cocaine, Oxycodone and Methamphetamines are considered to have slightly less potential for abuse and dependence and are on the Schedule II list. The DEA scheduling of marijuana has been under criticism for many years, however, no change to its status has been made or even openly discussed by the current or past administrations.
So, as a federal employee, prescription or not, you will not be able to use marijuana for any purpose and remain employed by the federal government. This has some ripple effect to federal contractors and companies who rely on federal funding such as state and private universities. While there is no current case law to determine whether it is legal for a private company in Florida to fire an employee who uses prescribed marijuana, it is an issue many states, such as Colorado, Michigan, and California have already been grappling with.
Employers will likely be the first target if/when medical marijuana becomes legal to a broader group of patients in Florida. Many occupations will have to weigh the safety risks with possible discrimination lawsuits until state courts and federal law catches up. If you are considering using marijuana for medical purposes, be sure to check with your employer first to see what policies they have in place. The cannabis discussion is far from over, both in Florida and across the country. It will be interesting to see how it is impacted in 2016.