Can Teachers and Convicts use Cannabis?
Questions on permissible use in the workplace and other categories are more and more common.
As the legal barriers to cannabis use fall, people in every region start to ask who will and will not be allowed to use it and under what circumstances. Questions surrounding the permissible use of cannabis for medical or recreational reasons in the workplace or by certain categories of persons are increasingly common. The responses vary greatly from region to region and employer to employer. Aside from knowing, for example, whether an office worker is permitted to use cannabis to reduce headaches while sitting in front of the computer all day, or whether the warehouse worker who loads boxes can do the same for back pain, we are seeing questions about permissible use arise in a vast array of categories.
While there’s no question that drugs exist within prison walls, whether or not cannabis use or even possession is sanctioned in prisons with the arrival of legalization has yet to be definitively settled. In 2019, five male convicts were found possessing cannabis in a California prison. An appeals court ruled that because of cannabis legalization, the convicts could not be punished for merely possessing the cannabis. Consumption was still illegal, but the state’s legalization statutes declared that mere possession was not. Elsewhere, in New Mexico, a District Court Judge found for the defendant in a case where a person under house confinement was found with medical cannabis. The New Mexico law explicitly allows for patients to use medical cannabis whether or not they are incarcerated. In fact, according to the New Mexico state senator who also represented the patient in the case, penitentiaries must make medical cannabis available for those who need it.
Prisoners on parole are also seeing varying degrees of reform in regions where medical and adult-use cannabis is being legalized. New Jersey, for instance, informed parole boards that any restrictions on cannabis metabolites in parolees is now impermissible — and the same goes for eligible defendants out on pre-trial release. Last year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against a PA County which sought to forbid parolees from using medical cannabis. And the Minnesota Department of Corrections moved to allow parolees to use medical cannabis if they are registered with the Minnesota Department of Health and provide the proper documentation to their parole agent. However, not all attempts to restrict prohibition of parolees are successful. In 2019, a Montana bill that would allow parolees to access medical cannabis made news when it passed the state’s house of representatives, but the bill died in committee.
And prison guards have been banned outright from using it, one reason for this being because consumers are disallowed from possessing firearms by the federal government, regardless of whether or not it’s medical. While HR 2071, which would waive this restriction for medical users, was introduced into the House of Representatives by Rep. Alexander Mooney (R-WV), it has yet to progress out of committee. However, similar to the shifting tides in other professions, a recent case brought by a Las Vegas police officer shows that the attitude in some law enforcement circles is evolving as well. . The police officer in question, Thomas Bowman, was fired after failing a THC test, but the judge found that the Nevada law protected his after-hours use. This means that he would receive backpay from the police department and perhaps even be reinstated.
A 2007 piece in TIME discussed Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle’s attempt to force drug testing on teachers in negotiations with their union. Not all school districts, apparently, test their teachers. That’s because drug testing is expensive, and schoolteachers, as a whole, are far less likely to use drugs than the general population. A 2007 study conducted by the federal government ranked schoolteachers 18th out of 19 professions for cannabis use finding that only 4% of educators used cannabis. Nonetheless, in one recent case, a Florida schoolteacher was tested after a student pushed her down a flight of stairs, and she ended up in the hospital. Even though her cannabis was used for medical purposes in a medical state, her school board still terminated her position, because the board received federal funds. Another Florida case involved a substitute schoolteacher applicant who argued that the school’s drug testing policy for new substitutes violated the fourth amendment. The US Circuit Court of Appeals found against her, stating that the tests were warranted, given that she would be providing for the safety of vulnerable members of society.
These are just some examples that demonstrate the developing body of thought and law surrounding the use of medical and recreational cannabis. Clearly, it is situation-dependent and varies based on jurisdiction. Overall, there seems to be a growing understanding of the need for decisions that permit people to use this plant responsibly and without unnecessary restriction.