Louisiana medical cannabis patients one step closer to labor protections
Louisiana lawmakers barely approved House Bill 351 which protects medical cannabis patients from losing unemployment benefits due to cannabis use. The approval came with a vote of 6-5, as reported by the Louisiana Illuminator and no awaits chamber approval on amendments.
Amendments removed protections for workers’ compensation claims. Only six states that have legalized medical cannabis explicitly allow patients to make workers’ compensation claims. In addition to amendments, the bill’s passage relies on a compromise with the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI).
Rep. Mandie Landry (D-New Orleans) sponsored the bill, and she has promised to reach terms with LABI. In committee, LABI member Wayne Fontana expressed concern that protections will encourage cannabis use at work, leading to employee accidents. In the same committee meeting, Rep. Landry responded to LABI, clarifying that the bill is not intended to encourage people to be “stoned at work.”
The sponsoring of HB 351 is not the Representative’s first step to protect medical cannabis patients in the workforce. In the 2022 session, Landry sponsored HB 988, which protects state workers from discrimination due to medical cannabis patient status. Rep. Landry also created the Employment and Medical Marijuana Task Force after submitting a study resolution.
Unemployment benefit protections in other states
Louisiana is not the first state to seek labor protections for medical patients. The Court of Appeals of Michigan ruled in the 2014 case of Braska v. Challenge Manufacturing Company that medical cannabis patients holding a valid prescription could collect unemployment benefits in the event of firing due to a positive cannabis drug test. Two appeals reached the Michigan Supreme Court in 2015, but judges refused to see the appeals, solidifying the labor protections.
In 2020 a Pennsylvania court decided the same, granting unemployment benefits to a fired medical cannabis patient in Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Auth. v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review.
Connecticut courts have set a similar precedent in the City of Waterbury v. Admin, siding with a compliant medical cannabis patient fired following a random drug screening.
These task forces and committee conversations initiate a necessary dialogue as American states navigate occupational cannabis quandaries like weed in the workplace and what safe cannabis access for first responders might look like. Labor protections like these are necessary to break the stigma, allowing patients to shed the shame of responsible medical cannabis consumption.