Lakewood Ranch Herald

Lakewood Ranch medical marijuana debate centers on workforce issues


Passage of Amendment 2 permitting medical use of marijuana in Florida's Nov. 4 General Election has many business owners and employers wondering how implementation will affect their workforce policies dealing with employees approved to use the drug for medicinal purposes.

These uncharted issues dominated a Wednesday debate on medical marijuana co-hosted by the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance and the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce at the Polo Grill in Lakewood Ranch.

Attended by a crowd of about 200 people, the debate featured panelists ranging from Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube to local labor and employment attorneys and the head of a Lakewood Ranch medical marijuana company called AltMed.

Florida voters will vote on a constitutional amendment called the Florida Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative, which would legalize medical use of marijuana prescribed by a physician to patients who suffer from a debilitating medical condition such as cancer, multiple sclerosis or serious back pain.

The Florida Department of Health would be responsible for regulating medical marijuana issues ranging from patient and caregiver identifications and confidentiality, to treatment center procedures and administration of reasonable quantities of cannabis for medical use. The amendment does not allow medical marijuana use in any place of education, employment or in public.

The amendment, however, is different from Senate Bill 1030, the "Charlotte's Web" bill approved by Gov. Rick Scott this year, permitting use of a non-psychoactive hybrid type of marijuana in oil form that does not induce the high associated with the weed's recreational use.

To begin the debate, Steube raised concerns about medical marijuana use and its impact on the business community.

"A person on medical marijuana doesn't have to declare that to their employer," Steube said. "Consider people who drive automobiles, light machinery, forklifts? What about all the people that take care of your kids and grandkids at day care? You may not know that about them, and by this amendment, they do not have to declare that."

Federal law prohibits medical marijuana use in the workplace, but protects employees with serious medical conditions from discrimination. Few of the 23 states with legalized medical marijuana have provided specific protections

for patients in the workplace who use medical cannabis.

Panelist Matthew Westerman approached the issue from an employer standpoint. He cautioned it would be difficult for employers to navigate cannabis use and make decisions.

"Certainly employers will be able to take disciplinary action if the use of medical marijuana affects an employee's ability to do his or her job or affects attendance. But if an employee is terminated, this is an area of grayness where employers will need to step back and avoid acting immediately," he said.

Richard Thompson, who spoke from an employee's perspective in relation to workers compensation, which he specializes in, said he found no evidence in researching other states that employees would be more prone to accidents under the influence of medical marijuana, but he said the amendment clearly avoids restricting an employer's right to ban the onsite use of medical marijuana in the workplace.

"However, if someone tests positive after an accident and they pull up a receipt from a doctor, the employer can deny the claim. The amendment doesn't allow physicians to prescribe it, only recommend it medically."

Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.