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Catch 22 for Medical Marijuana

What happens when you work for the State of New Mexico, follow state laws, and run afoul of federal mandates? You get fired. Or at least, that’s the subject of a lawsuit brought against the state by a woman who says she was fired for using marijuana legally under state laws.

The irony is that Valerie Romero worked for the State Personnel Office, the very agency which helps guide employment policy. She claims she asked repeatedly whether her medical marijuana use would affect her employment and felt safe continuing. However, after a positive drug test, she was put on administrative leave and fired a few months later.

Her boss alleges the firing wasn’t for medical marijuana use directly, but for appearing “glassy-eyed” at work. Workers, even those on prescription medications, are not supposed to show up impaired, and this can be used as a justification for termination.

According to a response to her lawsuit: The Personnel Office maintains that Romero was not reprimanded for her choice to use marijuana away from the workplace. Essentially, the state asserts that Romero crossed a line when she came to work stoned – with “glassy eyes, a happy and sedate affect” and “an overall difference in her normal behavior.”

The Personnel Office is trying to avoid seeming hypocritical, but it’s a tough case to make. Supervisors are not skilled in medicine and determining whether someone is under the influence is largely a judgment call. This case may clarify matters, but since the drug test can’t show current use – there’s no way to tell when the drugs were consumed – her department won’t be able to prove she was stoned, other than citing their impressions at the time.

Ms Romero uses medical marijuana to help with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and anxiety. In another bit of irony, she said stresses at her workplace led to an increase in symptoms and the need to use marijuana.

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