Pain or a paycheck: how medical marijuana can impact employment in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, which creates several complications for Pennsylvanians participating in the state’s legal medical marijuana program.

There are thousands of patients who could benefit from medical marijuana but don’t, because they get drug tested at work. Some companies allow their employees to use the treatment, while others don’t.

“I was actually emailed a job offer, a benefits package,” said Shellie Schall, a medical marijuana patient from Blairsville.

But that was all taken away when Schall was honest with the company.

“I even told them dwhat it was for, when I used, in the evenings,” said Schall.

Her back issues and PTSD are relieved by medical marijuana. And like many patients, Schall wanted to avoid strong pain killers.

The veteran says she recently graduated trade school at the top of her class. She’s shocked having her card is impacting her hopes of becoming a welder.

“They see it as I’m going to be impaired all the time or I’m going to be a safety issue because my head’s not in the game,” said Schall.

Another medical marijuana user who asked not to be identified, says that perception couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“It makes me a more productive worker for the state of Pennsylvania,” the man said. “Without this medication, I’m less of an ideal worker because I’m highly anxious and not on the ball.”

The reason he doesn’t want to share who he is: his employer also drug tests.

“I have a way to get around the urine test that I keep on hand,” the man said. “There’s pills you can do. There’s liquid you can do. There’s also just fake urine. There’s urine additives.”

It’s an industry of drug tests versus a sub-industry of companies trying to get around those tests.

“If you have heroin or marijuana detectable in your bloodstream, that is technically the exact same thing,” said the man. “They are both class one pharmaceuticals.”

Cannabis is still a schedule one drug on the federal level, even though medical marijuana is legal in this state.

Cocaine and meth are class two, meaning they’re technically less serious offenses.

“Our medical marijuana law does not require any employer to violate federal law,” said Patrick Nightingale, a criminal defense attorney and a marijuana advocate.

If a company is in an industry regulated by the federal government, it follows federal law.

That includes one of the state’s largest industries: transportation.

The Department of Health told us abc27 it can’t speak to individual employers’ policies, but points to the state law put in place when the medical marijuana program was developed.

That says patients may be prohibited from performing specific duties, like dealing with chemicals that require permits or high voltage electricity, public utility jobs, mining and anything that employers may consider life-threatening or a public health risk.

Schall is frustrated other medicines with proven physical and psychological side effects are deemed ok, while medical marijuana users have to choose between pain and a paycheck.

“I’m sorry, I don’t use my medical marijuana card to you know, ‘get stoned,” said Schall.

Medical marijuana patients also can’t be in any business that requires a firearm, so that eliminates thousands of officers from being able to benefit from the state’s program.

More on the effort to change the federal government’s stance so users can keep their Second Amendment rights is coming up in part two of this story Wednesday on Daybreak.

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