Marijuana Users Face Workplace Discrimination: Ban The Box Campaign Fights Back
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) For all the major reform that has happened on the marijuana front this year, from the implementation of recreational sales in two states to serious conversations about banking reform, there are many public policy issues that have remained largely untouched either in the public policy arena or in the mainstream by the year's new focus on ending prohibition.
One that is likely to impact users long after legalization occurs is the issue of employment for people who use medical marijuana. At present, under even the most permissive state laws where marijuana is legal for both medical and recreational use, employers (including of course the federal and state government) are allowed to fire workers for cause merely for finding traces of cannabinoids in their bloodstream. Zero tolerance hiring policies are obviously just as big a problem for those who use the drug medicinally .
An additional problem related to employment discrimination on this front that both medical and recreational users share, is the issue of criminal convictions. In a state like Illinois, with one of the highest rates of marijuana related arrests for mere (minor) possession , this is an area of criminal law where these two issues often meet. In Illinois the issue is particularly egregious right now as simple possession is not decriminalized yet as the state signs up its first "legal" medical users this fall. Nationwide the remnants of old laws as new systems are implemented also means that potential medical patients with any kind of non violent drug related convictions on their records could be banned from participation in even the state medical programs in the future.
Read More: Medical Marijuana Program Expands in D.C.
On the employment front at least, this is a problem not unknown to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, who just signed new legislation related to the issue last week. Last fall he made headlines nationwide by enabling those with criminal records to apply for state jobs. Last week he included private businesses with 15 or more employees. This makes Illinois only the fifth nation in the country to ban discrimination against applicants with criminal convictions in both the public and private sectors.
While unpopular with business, particularly small business, the Governor is only paying attention to national legal trends. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has now launched national cases against employers (both large and small from BMW to Dollar General) on this very issue.
The campaign is starting to go into high gear nationally in the aftermath of new heightened federal attention to the problem. In Georgia, Peachtree National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Executive Director Sharon Ravert explained to MainStreet why she is now joining up with the national coalition which is being spearheaded by the national group 9 To 5. She is working for reform for professional reasons beyond those that drove her to start the regional chapter of NORML in the first place. Her daughter, a college sophomore at the time she founded the group, faced felony charges and prison time (for manufacturing and distribution) over a broken grow light, a glass pipe and one and a half grams of cannabis.