Philly Mayor Agrees to Compromise, Will Sign Decriminalization Bill

Jim kenney
Councilman Jim Kenney

Yesterday, Mayor Michael Nutter announced that he had agreed to sign a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession in Philadelphia, with one small tweak. The bill was first introduced by Councilman Jim Kenney. In June, the City Council voted 13-3 to replace the current penalties of a $200 fine and an arrest record for possessing up to an ounce of marijuana, with a civil fine of $25. Mayor Nutter’s compromise deal would still make smoking in public punishable by a $100 fine.

A 2013 report by the ACLU found that, although marijuana use is nearly identical across all races, African Americans in Pennsylvania are 5.2 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white neighbors. Councilman Kenney estimates this measure could save the Philadelphia Police Department up to $4 million annually. Some reports estimate that the City of Brotherly Love would become the largest American city to adopt this sensible measure.

The Legal Use of Marijuana Versus Drug-Free Workplace Policies

According to a New York Times story, even as 23 states (and the District of Columbia) allow the use of medical or recreational marijuana, many businesses continue to strictly enforce their drug-free policies, creating a cultural schism between a society that increasingly accepts marijuana and companies that will fire employees who use it.

Brandon Coats

Brandon Coats, for example, was fired for violating Dish Network’s drug-free workplace rules, despite having a medical marijuana card. Coats was paralyzed in a car accident when he was 16 and has been using medical marijuana since 2009 to relieve painful spasms that jolt his body. However, he medicated mostly at night and said marijuana had never affected his performance at work. In spite of this, Mr. Coats andother patients are discovering that marijuana’s recent strides toward the legal and cultural mainstream are clashing with office policies and, ultimately, derailing careers.

Employers and business groups say drug screenings identify drug-abusing workers, create a safer working environment, lower their insurance costs, and, in some cases, are required by the law. Marijuana advocates, on the other hand, counter that such policies amount to discrimination, either against those using marijuana to treat a medical condition or against those who use it because they have the legal right to do so, off the clock and outside of the workplace.

There are a lot of people out there who need jobs, can do a good job, but in order for them to live their lives, they have to have this,” said Mr. Coats, who is 35. “A person can drink all night long, be totally hung over the next day and go to work and there’s no problem with it.”

Generally speaking, most companies do not fire employees for drinking a couple of beers or having a glass of wine — which is objectively more harmful than marijuana — after working hours. It simply does not make sense for law-abiding citizens to lose their jobs over a substance that is far safer than alcohol.

Workers’ Compensation to Cover Medical Marijuana in New Mexico

According to the Courthouse News Service, medical marijuana recommended by a physician for an injured patient’s pain must be paid for by the patient’s employer and insurer, the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled.

Despite marijuana’s federal classification as a controlled substance, the court concluded that New Mexico law grants Gregory Vialpando reimbursement for medical marijuana to treat the high-intensity pain that followed failed spinal surgeries caused by a workplace back injury. As the ruling states, Vialpando met the required threshold for payments under New Mexico’s workers’ compensation laws when his physician diagnosed medical marijuana as reasonable and necessary for his treatment. The August 29 decision is based on a lower court finding that Vialpando’s participation in the New Mexico Department of Health’s Medical Cannabis Program constitutes reasonable and necessary medical care, the requirement set for reimbursement by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act.

Vialpando’s employer at the time of the incident, Ben’s Automotive Services, and health care provider, Redwood Fire & Casualty, argued that medical marijuana should be treated as a prescription drug. If it were, it would require a pharmacist or health care provider to dispense, which New Mexico’s medical marijuana program does not have, and thus, could not be paid for by worker’s compensation.

However, the appeals court found that although “medical marijuana is not a prescription drug,” if it were, “our analysis would lead to the same conclusion.” “Indeed, medical marijuana is a controlled substance and is a drug. Instead of a written order from a health care provider, it requires the functional equivalent of a prescription – certification to the program. Although it is not dispensed by a licensed pharmacist or health care provider, it is dispensed by a licensed producer through a program authorized by the Department of Health,” the court wrote.

Vialpando’s employer and insurer also argued that reimbursements would force them to commit a federal crime, or at least violate federal public policy. The appeals court rejected that, as well.

“Although not dispositive, we note that the Department of Justice has recently offered what we view as equivocal statements about state laws allowing marijuana use for medical and even recreational purposes.”

In terms of the next steps for New Mexico’s medical marijuana policies, the state is heading in the right direction considering legalization.

 

Another Maine City Puts Marijuana Initiative On Ballot

Earlier this week, the City Council of Lewiston, Maine voted unanimously to send an initiative that would make possession of marijuana legal for adults to the voters.

Citizens for a Safer Maine submitted more than 1,250 signatures to get the measure in front of the council, which had the options of adopting it or placing it on the ballot. Just 859 valid signatures of registered city voters were required. A similar measure will appear on the November ballot in South Portland, and the group has submitted more than the number of signatures required to place one on the ballot in York.

The initiative would make it legal for adults 21 years of age and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. It would remain illegal to consume or display marijuana in public. The measure also includes a statement in support of regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol at the state level.

Marijuana Policy Project