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Illinois medical marijuana, which has exploded since legalization, is still costing some of their jobs;  cards up 30% last year

CHICAGO (WLS) – Medical marijuana is more popular than ever in Illinois, despite the fact that recreational marijuana has been legal for over a year. In fact, the data indicates that the rise in medical marijuana use may be due to recreational marijuana, which is taxed at a much higher rate.

But it is also a resource for physicians and patients with chronic illnesses who seek to avoid the use of opiates.

“My thought process is if you can cut back on opiates, if you can start living your life longer, then this is a wonderful drug,” said Dr. Rahul Khare, Innovative Express Care.

Some physicians insist that the increase in the number of medical marijuana users reflects the growing demand for effective and legitimate pain treatments; Khare said he has certified more than 13,000 Illinois residents for medical marijuana in the past five years.

According to the latest statewide data, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder are at the top of the list of reasons to get a medical marijuana card. The report also notes that the state saw a more than 30% increase in the number of new patients signing up for an Illinois cannabis card in 2021, with the largest percentage of new patients between the ages of 31 and 40. years.

But medical and recreational marijuana users face a common dilemma: potentially losing their jobs for using a legal substance.

“How do we protect employees who use this legal substance when it stays in their system for up to 30 days? Said Rep. Bob Morgan (D-IL 58), one of the original architects of the state’s medical marijuana law. “So it’s not a new topic, but it’s certainly a lot more important now that we have more people in Illinois who are legally using the substance.”

Some companies continue to have a zero tolerance policy for all employees who test positive for drugs, even if they have a medical marijuana card.

“They actually hired me and then they fired me,” said Cindy Andere.

The 35-year-old is a registered nurse and a patient licensed to use medical marijuana. In August, she was planning to start a new job at the Silver Cross Surgery Center in New Lenox, but received a letter from them informing her that she had failed their drug test, which they said was a condition. of his job.

“They treated me like I was a criminal,” Andere said. “They treated me, they made me feel like an addict.”

Andere suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that causes debilitating chronic pain. She was prescribed medical cannabis for the pain, and she said she only used it when she was not on the clock.

“It gives me, I honestly think, a better quality of life than a lot of pharmaceuticals. There are very few side effects for me, personally. I actually have more energy with it,” he said. she declared.

Andere filed a disability discrimination complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act offers no protection in Illinois because marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.

“I told them on my request that I was disabled, and so so that they wouldn’t give me any other options, I felt that was something I really needed to bring to light,” said Andere.

In an email, a spokesperson for the Silver Cross Surgery Center said they “declined to comment on the pending legal issues.”

Andere’s attorney said cases like his are on the rise as the patchwork of marijuana laws and policies has yet to be challenged in state courts.

“People are more than confused,” said labor lawyer David Fish. “People call us and usually their first response is, I’ve looked on the internet and marijuana is legal and it says in there that I can’t be fired for using it at work, and then we have to explain that there is this law that says something a little different. “

“I think we need to clean it up, it’s been overdue. It’s impacting a lot of people,” State Representative Bob Morgan said.

Morgan introduced legislation to challenge Illinois law so that most workers or job seekers would not be punished after testing positive for low levels of marijuana, whether recreational or medical.

“This law would change the burden in the sense that the individual who fails a drug test alone should not lose his job and should not be denied the opportunity to work somewhere,” he said. . “Unless you have a disability, you cannot be discriminated against in the workplace.”

The scope of state law may be limited, and what adds to the confusion is that job protection for cannabis users may not apply to federal positions and jobs sensitive to cannabis. safety, such as those in transportation, manufacturing and healthcare.

Employment experts say many companies are also sticking to traditional drug testing for liability and safety reasons.

“We have always been a drug-free and safe work environment,” said Joyce Johnson, president and CEO of Anchor staffing in Chicago.
Johnson’s company provides temporary workers to a variety of businesses. “A lot of companies will just say, ‘We don’t care if it’s federal or state legal, it’s not our company policy, they have to take a drug test and they can’t come back positive with it. cannabis. “And I think that’s what a lot of companies go through, just to make sure it’s fair.”

Andere said her use of medical marijuana at home does not interfere with her ability to be a good nurse at work.

“If I have to lead by example to change policies or change a law, then I totally agree because I am ready to stand up for what is right,” she said.

With the steady rise in the number of medical marijuana card holders in Illinois and the legalization of recreational marijuana, doctors and lawmakers highlight the critical need for businesses to rethink testing policies. drugs.

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