Legal marijuana, drug testing laws far from settled

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A bill that would prevent known drug users from collecting welfare payments has been proposed in the Legislature, and regardless of whether it becomes law, we're going to be dealing with the drug testing issue for a long time.

Living near Colorado, Southwest Nebraskans should be concerned about the topic, especially if we are subject to drug testing at our place of employment, as many of us are.

A Texas case shows how complicated the issue can be.

Maryam Roland ingested an edible marijuana product during a Christmas break in Colorado a couple of years ago, but when she was back at work as a teacher in El Paso, she tested positive for marijuana.

Rather than being suspended by the Texas Education Agency, which could have prevented her return to teaching, she resigned in February 2015.

After the education agency asked for a ruling, Judge William G. Newchurch said he did not find Roland "unworthy to instruct," and drew a comparison with gambling.

"Possession of a usable quantity of marijuana is a criminal offense in Texas, but so is gambling," Newchurch wrote. Punishing her would be like taking action against someone who had gambled at a casino in Nevada, and then returned to Texas, where gambling is illegal.

Roland admitted to "occasionally" using marijuana but told school officials she had not done so in more than a month. A sample of her hair showed evidence of marijuana. Traces of marijuana can remain in hair for as long as six months.

The judge ruled that the school had no "reasonable suspicion" of work-related misconduct.

With the legalization of marijuana, the line between personal freedom and public safety is blurred, especially for those responsible for students, passengers, and patients, for example.

Laws allowing private employers to set their own testing policies haven't caught up with the issue in the eight states where medical and recreational marijuana is legal, or the 29 where medical use is allowed.

In one notable case in Colorado, a customer service worker used medical marijuana for pain from a car accident that left him partly paralyzed. After he was fired for positive marijuana results during a random drug test, the state Supreme Court ruled that smoking marijuana off the job could still get an employee fired.

All the old arguments about alcohol, opioids and other "legal" drugs remain valid, but for now, eating that marijuana brownie on your Colorado ski trip is still a bad idea.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: