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It's a recommendation, not a prescription — and to an employer, that's more than semantics

By now, most people have heard the curious case of 29-year-old cancer patient Joseph Casias, but if you've missed it, here it is: Casias, a Michigan resident, was a 2008 Wal-Mart associate of the year who was fired in November because he also happened to be a card-carrying medical marijuana user.

According to CNN, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) receives roughly 300 calls and e-mails a year from medical marijuana users who have been shown the door due to failed drug tests. And Tanya Garduno, director of the Colorado Springs Medical Marijuana Council, says the problem isn't going anywhere.

"In fact, I think that you're going to see more employers facing this same question, and what happens with Wal-Mart will probably be one of the turning points," Garduno says. (Though nothing has been filed, a potential suit from the Michigan ACLU looms.)

As an "at-will" employment state, Colorado offers no protection for medical marijuana users who fail company-mandated drug tests. What about employee protection from being terminated due to use of a prescription?

"Well, remember, it's not a prescription, it's a recommendation," Garduno says. "Most of your companies, in their bylaws, have a clause in there for prescription medication. Things like your painkillers, your meds, whatever it is that you're on. But because there's no clause in there for recommendations, that's where we fall into this gray area."

The same risk applies to medicating on the job. Whereas a patient has the legal right to consume prescribed Vicodin during a shift, someone who used medical marijuana at home, days before, risks running into a company's "zero-tolerance" policy.

"The thing about it is, consuming on the job or not consuming on the job, if they were to test you, there's no way to tell if you just consumed, or if you consumed last week," Garduno says.

The local Council director goes on to say that while there's no official movement to create medical marijuana-user protections on the state level, different amendments have made their way into and out of the General Assembly. In the end, she says, it might boil down to one thing.

"I think if employers learned a little bit more about the effects [of medical marijuana]," Garduno says, "they'll learn that it's a much better alternative than a person coming in hopped up on OxyContin."

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