Nearly 2.5 million people in the U.S. have registered for state-issued medical marijuana cards estimated by 2012 statistics gathered by ProCon.org. Many cardholders worry that they will be discriminated against in the workplace should their employers or potential employers discover they use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Cardholders may have good reason to be concerned despite the fact that there are privacy laws in place to protect medical information.
Federal HIPPA Laws
Individuals must get a doctor's recommendation prior to getting a state-issued medical marijuana card. As with other medical records, this doctor visit and recommendation is private and protected under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). The HIPPA rule sets a national standard that strictly prohibits sharing of health information, unless it is needed for patient care and other important purposes. This means that your employer cannot access your medical records to learn that you have received a recommendation to use marijuana.
Medical marijuana use is legal in 18 states as well as the District of Columbia. Other states are also entertaining bills that will legalize or decriminalize medical marijuana. Every state has different policies regarding registration, use and possession limits. Employment discrimination rules also vary by state. For example, Michigan has several rules in place protecting patients in the workplace. Michigan’s Department of Community Health, which oversees the state's medical marijuana program, prohibits employers from discriminating against a person because they have a medical marijuana card. However most states do not protect patients in the workplace. In 2008, California's Supreme Court ruled that employers have the right to terminate workers who use medical marijuana.
Your employer will not be notified if you get a medical marijuana card. Employers are also barred from calling state agencies to determine if you are a registered cardholder. However, you may be subjected to a pre-employment drug test and will most likely not be hired if you cannot pass the test. Employers also have the right to drug test current employees and may lawfully choose to terminate you if marijuana is discovered in your system.
If you would like to keep your card status a secret, you should make an effort to maintain your privacy. Gossip can travel quickly throughout an organization. Do not flaunt your card or discuss private medical matters with your co-workers. You should also be careful when choosing a medical marijuana dispensary or supplier. Your boss or co-workers could see you enter the building and will quickly surmise that you are a medical marijuana user. Finally don't forget to be discreet on social networks. Employers often conduct background checks online and may put two and two together if they see references to drug use or usernames or nicknames like happysmoker123 or 420lover.
- ProCon.org: How many people in the United States use medical marijuana?
- NBC News: Wal-Mart worker fired over medical marijuana
- California NORML: Frequently Asked Questions
- HHS.gov: Understanding Health Privacy
- ProCon.org: 18 Legal Medical Marijuana States and DC
- East Bay Express: The Truth About Medical Marijuana Card Privacy
- Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images