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Can a Teacher Get a Medical Marijuana Card?

Many school districts allow underage students to consume medical marijuana, but can you be a teacher with a medical card? Unfortunately, this is still a tricky issue even in states that have legalized medical and recreational marijuana.

If you have a medical marijuana card and want to go into teaching or are currently a teacher and have a chronic or debilitating condition, understanding the legal situation is essential as you begin to navigate the issue with schools.

Why Teachers Often Can’t Get Medical Marijuana

If you’re a public school teacher, you may be discouraged from accessing medical marijuana. Although medical marijuana states don’t expressly prohibit teachers from obtaining cannabis, school districts often have anti-marijuana restrictions in place—especially for public school settings. The main problem comes down to federal funding.

As of February 2022, 37 U.S. states have legalized medical marijuana and 19 have an adult-use marijuana program in place. However, at the federal level, marijuana is still an illegal substance.

What this means for government employees—including school teachers—is that their superiors (in this case district officials) could lose federal funding if they were discovered to be employing someone who consumes marijuana.

For public school districts (and some private schools), federal funding constitutes around 8% of their budget and is mostly spent on programs for financially disadvantaged students and students with disabilities, so it's not an easy decision to make.

The Enright Case

In the case of teacher Allison Enright in Florida—where medical marijuana is legal—the Brevard County School District decided to uphold the district’s decision to fire Enright for consuming medical marijuana in 2021, even though she had a valid medical marijuana card.

In her defense, Enright commented, “I want to make it clear: I don't do drugs. I don't smoke pot. I don't get high." She simply takes a THC-containing pill twice a day for health conditions that cause pain and weakness.

Ironically, the same school district allows students to consume non-smokable medical marijuana products on school property, administered by their state-registered caregiver and not by school administrators. It's simply an issue of state vs federal law.

Private Schools and Medical Marijuana Use

Medical marijuana patients may have more wiggle room if they plan to teach in a private school that isn't dependent on federal funds. However, the final decision would still be up to the school officials. At a minimum, a teacher wouldn't be permitted to consume cannabis on school grounds.

If the school decides in favor of the teacher, a copy of an employee's medical marijuana card should be given to their employer as evidence of their medical cannabis patient status. The teacher would then need to take care not to be even the slightest bit impaired while performing work-related duties so as not to jeopardize their good standing with the school.

What About CBD Products?

Cannabidiol (CBD) derived from hemp is federally legal as long as it contains less than 0.3% THC. State laws on CBD, however, vary, with some states allowing only CBD with 0.0% THC and others allowing hemp-derived CBD only with a medical marijuana card.

Whether school employees would be allowed to consume CBD—which you can buy without an MMJ card in Arizona and many other states—is something that school districts or private school boards would have to decide. If you're a teacher and want to consume CBD, it's best to ask before going ahead.

Employee Protections in Legal States

In Arizona, employers—including schools—are allowed to maintain a drug-free workplace but aren't allowed to discriminate against an employee for their MMJ patient status as long as they don't consume marijuana on site and aren't actually impaired at work. This rule, of course, applies only to non-federal jobs.

To be afforded this protection in AZ, the patient would need to have an Arizona qualifying condition, obtain a physician's recommendation for cannabis with an in-person or telemedicine MMJ appointment, and apply to the Arizona Department of Health Services for their digital MMJ card. A copy of an employee's medical marijuana card should be given to their employer as evidence of their medical cannabis patient status. Similar processes exist in other states; consult your state health department or medical cannabis department for more information.

Positive Drug Tests vs Impairment

The tricky thing in a workplace situation—including a school—is that an employee such as a teacher might be subjected to drug testing and test positive for THC even if he or she isn't under the influence of marijuana at the time. Because THC metabolites can stay in the system for days or even weeks, a positive drug test is an unreliable indicator of whether an employee is actually impaired.

In Whitmire v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., a former Walmart employee argued that she should not have been dismissed on the basis of testing positive for marijuana metabolites because she had a medical marijuana card and was not impaired at work.

In the case, the court said that “proving impairment based on the results of a drug screen is a scientific matter which requires expert testimony.” A positive result on its own isn't enough to prove that an employee—such as a teacher—is under the influence of marijuana and hence breaking a school’s drug-free policy.

School Bus Drivers and Medical Marijuana

While some private school teachers might be given permission to consume medical marijuana at home, school bus drivers must abstain completely.

According to federal laws, no one who drives a commercial motor vehicle can test positive for a controlled substance, which currently includes marijuana (see 49 CFR § 382.215; 49 CFR § 382.107; 49 CFR § 40.85).

What Can Teachers and School Districts Do?

In the long term, the best solution to the teacher-MMJ conundrum would be for the federal government to reconsider its position on marijuana and change its classification on the DEA's schedule of controlled substances.

Until that happens—and let's hope it happens soon—teachers should be up front with their employers or potential employers about their current or intended medical marijuana consumption and ask whether an arrangement can be made (such as refraining from subjecting the teacher to drug tests).

Whether or not the school accepts, the teacher should make sure that they have a valid MMJ card so that they can enjoy state-based employment protections should they ever decide to look for a non-government job.

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