New Mexico Lawsuit Highlights Problems with Medical Marijuana

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Valerie Romero worked for the New Mexico State Personnel Office, which hires state workers and explains employment policies to other departments in state government. So it’s a bit ironic that Romero would run afoul of department policy. She’s suing the state for firing her because she smokes marijuana – legally.

New Mexico legalized marijuana for medical use in 2007. Romero had a prescription and notified her department that she was using the drug. Unfortunately, that didn’t help her when she tested positive for marijuana. She was put on administrative leave and subsequently fired.

A lawsuit followed, and Romero seemed to have a strong case. That was in August. The state has now filed a response to the lawsuit and told their side of the story.

According to the state, the reason for the firing wasn’t strictly the use of marijuana, but that Romero showed signs of being impaired on the job. They claim she crossed a line when she came to work with “glassy eyes, a happy and sedate affect.”

The Issue with Legalized Marijuana Use

At issue then is where the line actually is in these cases. It’s more difficult than with other types of drug abuse. For example, someone who is drinking at work will show positive on a breathalyzer – clear evidence of recent alcohol use. But for marijuana, you can’t tell when someone has last smoked, nor can you tell with a urine test whether someone is high at any given moment.

Should the lawsuit go to trial, this will likely be the most important factor: Can an employer, who is not a trained medical professional, accurately judge whether someone is impaired or not?

It’s not like the State Personnel Office involves the use of heavy or dangerous equipment. The fact that someone appears happy at a government job may be indicative of a mood enhancing drug, but it could also be that rare case of a bureaucrat who enjoys her job.

One way or the other, with legal marijuana in the state, policies will have to be drawn up which are both fair and actually work in an environment where weed is legal. A case of making your bed and having to sleep in it for the state.

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