PA: Can Employers Discriminate Against Certified Medical Marijuana Users

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Most 26-year-olds don’t have to keep track of their various medications with an oversized seven-day pill box.

But it’s a reality for Evan D’Orazio, who spread numerous bottles of prescription and over-the-counter medications he’s been taking to treat his fibromyalgia symptoms across his kitchen counter on a rainy spring afternoon.

Since he was 19, he has been periodically plagued with widespread body pain due to his severe fibromyalgia, which is sometimes compounded with digestive and concentration issues.

“Honestly, the best way I can describe it: It feels like if you had a hangover and the flu, but were awake for three days straight,” said D’Orazio, of Aliquippa, who was diagnosed about three years ago. “I have insomnia too from it, so it’s a constant battle of trying to work and have a normal life while dealing with this.”

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder with no known cure, but medications can help control symptoms.

At one point he had the strength to be a powerlifter, but now he’s thankful to be able to get through his workday without being in pain.

Some of the medications he’s taken have had severe side effects, like seizures and suicidal thoughts.

There is medicine that D’Orazio believes could help more than his current prescriptions, and could maybe eliminate his pill box organizer entirely, but getting it could mean he’d be at risk of losing his job. He’s considering medical marijuana as an option, which was suggested by his primary care physician. His doctor did not return phone calls for interview requests.

Pennsylvania’s first medical marijuana dispensaries opened in February, which include pills, vape pens, oils and tinctures as forms of medication for those who have a doctor’s recommendation, but it’s not currently legalized in dry leaf, flower or edible form.

There are 17 approved serious medical conditions for which patients can potentially seek medical marijuana as a form of treatment. That includes severe chronic pain that cannot be alleviated through other means, such as therapeutic intervention or opiate therapy, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

D’Orazio decided to ask human resources at his employer, which he has asked not be identified in this story, about their drug testing policies. He’s currently a contracted worker, but has the possibility of being hired full time.

According to an email exchange provided to The Times, his employer said that if someone tested positive for marijuana during a pre-employment physical, a random or reasonable suspicion test, it would be considered a failed test regardless of whether the individual had a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana or not.

“It feels like I’m being discriminated against, because I can’t have a normal life because of that law,” he said.

He explained others with chronic health conditions don’t have to make a choice between their job and their medicine.

“If a workplace would say, this is an insulin-free workplace. We don’t hire diabetics. It’s a weird example, because you know, the federal law, and it’s different medicine and stuff like that,” he said. “But at the same time, if you have any kind of severe condition, whether it be cancer or fibromyalgia or any kind of disease or condition where medical marijuana can actually help you and get your life back in order, it seems like you’re kind of stuck in a rut.”

D’Orazio said he otherwise has had a good experience working for his employer, and had once hoped to be there on a long-term basis before knowing about the drug testing policies.

“It’s one of those things,” he said. “It’s like, do I stay there and be in pain? Or do I have to try to find something else where I might have a chance?”

It’s a question many Pennsylvanians are facing in the advent of legalized medical marijuana.