Conflicting Laws Mean Cannabis Users Still Face Problems

More and more states are legalizing medical cannabis for patients. So far, medicinal marijuana has been legalized in 29 states, and that has been a real boon to people who suffer from incurable, chronic illnesses such as pain disorders.

Unfortunately, marijuana is still illegal as far as the federal government is concerned. This means that medical marijuana patients face legal and logistical problems that add to the burden of trying to treat their illnesses with cannabis. There are several major issues that can impact the lives and livelihoods of patients.

    • Employment. Even in states where weed is legal for recreational purposes, if your employer with a zero-tolerance policy legally drug tests you and finds THC in your system, you can be fired and have no recourse. Arizona and Delaware have written in protections for medical cannabis patients; employers can’t fire prescription holders unless their job performance is impaired. Unfortunately, courts in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have supported the firing of patients who tested positive even though those patients had legitimate cannabis prescriptions. The Americans with Disabilities Act offers no protection for disabled employees using marijuana to treat their conditions, because the ADA is not required to accommodate drug use deemed illegal by the federal government.


    • Parenting. Because of federal laws, medical marijuana card holders can be barred from serving as foster parents and can be denied custody of their children or grandchildren. For instance, people cannot become licensed foster parents in Arizona if they hold medical cannabis cards, but unlicensed foster parents do not have the same restrictions. Given that so many children need foster parents, social service agencies are struggling to adapt to the changing times and conflicting laws. California’s Proposition 64 does provide basic protection for parents; they cannot lose custody simply for using medical marijuana.


    • Travel. Obviously, a card-carrying medical marijuana user could be arrested if he or she carries his or her stash to a state where weed is illegal. But in some situations, a person could be arrested even in another state where medical marijuana is legal because that state doesn’t recognize the registry card issued by the traveler’s state. Other states may recognize the validity of out-of-state cards, but not allow visitors to purchase cannabis from their dispensaries. It’s worth looking at the list at ProCon to check before you make travel plans.


    • Firearms. Because marijuana is still a Schedule 1 controlled substance, federal law prohibits cannabis users from “shipping, transporting, receiving or possessing firearms or ammunition.” Anyone who tries to purchase a gun from a licensed dealer will have to sign a form declaring that he or she is not “an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance.” Some states such as Hawaii have demanded that patients joining marijuana registries turn in their firearms; others have not actively enforced federal laws on the matter. A 2016 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared that the federal ban on firearm sales to medical cannabis patients does not violate the 2nd Amendment.


While the 2nd Amendment is a controversial subject, people generally agree that being able to hold a job, being able to parent one’s children, and being able to travel freely within one’s own country are essential aspects of a normal human life. Until medical cannabis becomes legal at the federal level, patients in states where it’s legal still potentially face fairly serious limitations and discrimination.


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