Medical Marijuana Cards and the Workplace

Marijuana Caduceus Medical
Photo by: Christos Georghio/Shutterstock

The counter-culture is making a comeback. These days, consuming cannabis, whether for adult recreational use or for medicinal purposes, is becoming mainstream. States across the country are adjusting their legislature, and people, regular people, are voting for marijuana reform. More and more, it is becoming acceptable to smoke pot.

In some cases, however, the area is still very gray. When it comes to jobs, the rules that popular culture play by do not necessarily apply. The question must be asked: Can you be denied a job because of a medical marijuana card?

While medical marijuana has been a thriving industry in the United States since California issued legislation in 1996, and recreational cannabis has been legalized in 10 states, the federal government has never been on cannabis’ side. Most recently, the former Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, very vocally opposed legalization.

Getting the Card

medical cannabis on an Rx bag

To get the state-issued cards, applicants in every state must get a doctor’s recommendation. Like all medical visits and records, this recommendation is private; it is a trip to the physician and is treated like any other doctor’s appointment.

Thanks to the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), all medical visits and information are private. These records cannot be shared unless it is vital to medical care. They also cannot be shared with other agencies, such as police, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), or companies that conduct background searches. The card itself has your name and picture on it, but cannot be passed around without your consent.

The bottom line: your employer cannot access your files to find out if you have received a doctor’s recommendation for cannabis. In addition, your medical marijuana card will not show up on a background check.

Once You’re a Medical Marijuana Cardholder

medical marijuana cross

Once you get your medical marijuana card, your place of work will not be notified. In the reverse, employers are not allowed to call and ask state agencies if you are registered in the card system.

When you get your card, it is completely your business. Even when buying weed, you are not at risk of having your information stolen. Since most people do not grow their own cannabis, they buy their flower from either a marijuana dispensary, collective, or delivery service.

And though nearly all required forms and documentation and membership, medical information is secure through the same state laws that affect all business that requires personal information.

This guarantee of discretion does not mean that you are completely protected if your employer does find out about your medicinal cannabis use.

One way that an employer can find out legally about your cannabis use is through drug testing. These can happen both pre-and mid-employment, depending on the policies of the place of work.

If a pre-employment drug test is issued and you have medical marijuana in your system, it is likely that you will not be hired for the job. Many states haven’t established clear rules for whether employers can discriminate against medical marijuana cardholders for testing positive for marijuana on employment drug screens, but a recent court ruling seems to suggest that they can use it as a reason not to hire you.

Keep It to Yourself

marijuana plant up close

Other ways that employers can find out about medicinal pot use are tragically common and involve a lack of boundaries or privacy. If you wish to keep your medical marijuana card to yourself, it has to be that way across the board: on social media, with co-workers, and even when choosing a dispensary or supplier.

Not only is gossip prevalent, but being seen walking into the Green Goddess might lead to uncomfortable and unfortunate circumstances. And while background checks might protect your medical records, they will not hide your online usernames, especially if they are “stonerchick420.”

And even though police cannot find a medical marijuana card on a background check, they do have talents of deduction. If you decide to drive while high and are pulled over, it is only a matter of time before a DUI will be issued; driving impaired would be compiled into a court record, which is accessible to the public.

State Rules

If your employer knows about your medical marijuana card, however, their next move is completely up to them, depending on where you live.

Though the federal government is in the habit of making laws that affect everyone, states have their own set of rules that differ. State laws regarding cannabis vary vastly, regarding everything from method of consumption to medical qualifications to possession to registration (i.e. medical cards).

Two states show stark differences in medical consumers’ rights in the workplace: in California, the law states that employers have the right to terminate employees who use medical marijuana. Michigan, however, has policies from the Department of Community Health which prohibit employers from discriminating against workers for having a medical card.

In the end, medical marijuana cards follow an uncomplicated path. When you’re trying to get one, no one can find out. If you have one, no one will know pending drug test and your behavior. And once it is out in the open, the decision comes down to either employee policy or state laws. Either way, it is safest to aim for a little discretion when it comes to card holding.