Here in Florida, people are listening very closely to the heated debate about legalizing marijuana. Voters will decide in the upcoming election whether or not to make Florida the 24th state and become the first state in the South to make such a move.

As in other states, pro-pot proponents say marijuana offers a compassionate alternative to treat pain and will provide jobs and revenue to the state whereas anti-marijuana advocates say there is a synthetic substance similar to marijuana already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This article does a thorough job explaining the battle but move quickly because soon it will be available only to subscribers of that newspaper.

What the article doesn’t address, however, is how medical marijuana use might affect people’s jobs, or the likelihood of them landing gigs. Now that pot is legal in some states, it may seem unfair (unlawful, even) to get sacked for smoking weed. Tell that to the judicial system. So far, most courts have upheld employers’ rights to maintain a drug-free workplace.

Many employers have zero-tolerance drug policies in their codes of employee conduct. That means even if marijuana is legal in the state that you work, and that you only smoke it on your own time, you’re still bound by the rules your employer has in place. Why? Mostly for liability and workplace safety reasons, but there is also job performance and a company’s reputation to keep in mind. For a full list, click here.

But there are some cases still pending in courtrooms across the country that could have major implications as more states consider becoming 420-friendly, medically speaking or otherwise. Here’s why you need to read the fine print about your company’s drug policy before you toke up:

Medical marijuana isn’t a free pass. 

This legal blog, helmed by the guys at DUI Defense Matters, uses the case of Brandon Coats, to demonstrate how courts are still siding with employers’ rights to operate drug-free zones. Coats, a quadriplegic since a car accident crushed his spine when he was 16, says he uses marijuana to ease his pain and muscle spasms. He would smoke it at night, when he was off his duties from answering customer service calls for Dish Network. Fiver years ago, however, he was fired for failing a drug test.

Dish Network, like more than a third of private employers and all federal government workers and contractors, has a drug-free workplace and operates drug testing to maintain it. Coats’ case is now before the Colorado Supreme Court.

The lesson here is that you MUST read and understand your company’s drug policy if you’re even contemplating smoking weed. This goes for medical marijuana, too.

Employers are in murky waters. 

Until the pot movement is accepted by all 50 states or is given an exemption from the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988, employers will more than likely continue to err on the side of caution when it comes to allowing employees to smoke weed. Many folks feel that marijuana impairs ability and judgement and they don’t want that to become a safety or service issue in their company. One of the biggest reasons that employers will likely keep their anti-drug policies is that tests can’t determine exactly when pot was ingested, so they don’t want to become liable for an on-site accident that occurred because of what an employee was doing in her/his free time.

If that’s the case, employers will stick with a clear cut policy instead of finding themselves in a legal gray area.

You can forget about unemployment benefits, too. 

Getting fired may be the least of your worries if you’re given the pink slip because of marijuana use. You probably won’t be able to get unemployment bennies, either. Take the case of Jason Beinor (also of Colorado), a medical marijuana patient who was canned from his job as a street sweeper after failing a drug test. Initially denied from receiving unemployment benefits, a hearing officer later reversed the decision for a variety of reasons, among them, the “Claimant has a state constitutional right to use marijuana.”

Beinor was then able to claim benefits totaling $1,500. His former employer then took the case to the Colorado Court of Appeals where it was overturned again.

What’s the takeaway here? Unless you’re willing to give up everything a job affords you so you can blaze up, stay away from marijuana until this thing blows over. But if you work for a company who is cool with your off-duty habit like this one is, then smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.

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