Pennsylvania Legalizes Medical Marijuana

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

April 22, 2016

Pennsylvania has become the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana for people suffering from certain chronic health conditions, including terminal illnesses.

The new law, signed by Governor Tom Wolf on April 17, bans employers from discriminating against employees or job applicants because of their status as medical marijuana cardholders. However, it does not explicitly protect employees who test positive for marijuana and have medical authorization to use the drug. Instead, the new law permits an employer to discipline an employee for being under the influence of medical marijuana.

Only three states explicitly protect employees who fail drug tests because of medical marijuana use, including:

  • Arizona;
  • Delaware; and
  • Minnesota.

None of the laws in these three states permit on-duty drug use for any reason.

The new Pennsylvania law legalizes marijuana use in pill, oil and topical forms to treat state residents whom a doctor has certified as suffering from a serious medical condition. Smoking of marijuana is completely prohibited. The following are some of the conditions that qualify as serious medical conditions:

  • AIDS or HIV;
  • ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease);
  • Cancer
  • Crohn's disease;
  • Epilepsy;
  • Parkinson's disease; and
  • Sickle cell anemia.

The state will allow up to 150 dispensary locations to sell medical marijuana. It will also issue permits to allow entities to grow and process it.

Four states - Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon - and the District of Columbia have gone further by legalizing recreational marijuana use in certain small amounts. However, even in those four states, there is no special job protection for marijuana users.

For instance, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in 2015, in Coats v. Dish Network, that a medical marijuana user who was fired after failing a drug test could not reclaim his job, even though both recreational and medical marijuana use are legal in the state.