Fifty-seven-year-old Charlie Davis suffers from end-stage renal failure and associated nerve damage in his legs. The nerve damage causes him intense pain that renders him unable to get regular sleep, and occasionally leaves him unable to walk As a result from the pain, Davis’ doctor recommended that he start using medical marijuana.
Davis was lead clerk in NJ Transit’s procurement office, when he started using his state authorized medical marijuana. But after his clerk job was reassigned to someone with more seniority – called “bumping”-, he applied for a position in the agency’s railroad division and learned he would have to take a drug test.
That’s when it went downhill for Davis. NJ Transit suspended him and ordered him to attend drug rehabilitation for using medical cannabis while off-duty.
Davis is now suing NJ Transit stating that the company violated state discrimination laws that protect employees with disabilities.
“I’m not a junkie,” Davis told the Record, a northern New Jersey newspaper. “I told them I was taking prescribed medical marijuana. I was not hiding anything from them.”
He said he told the medical officer he was willing to seek a non-safety sensitive job, like a janitor or office worker, but it was too late.
“She told me that since I told her, I would have to be tested anyway,” Davis said. “I told her, ‘Ma’am, I am not on drugs. This is medical marijuana.”
Davis now finds himself preparing to challenge what may have been an unanticipated consequence of the state’s Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. The state allows him to legally use pot under the law’s strict guidelines, but Davis and the 1,670 other people who were registered in the program last year have no protection, even at a state agency, from firing if found to have the drug in their systems.
He is now suing NJ Transit — in what could be the first test of New Jersey’s medical marijuana law in the workplace — to have medical marijuana recognized as an accepted medication instead of a street drug.
Sarah Fern Meil, the Milford attorney representing Davis, said they were seeking a policy change only for non-safety-sensitive jobs at NJ Transit and were not challenging the agency’s zero-tolerance policy with safety-sensitive positions, like block operator, bus driver or train engineer.
She said that Davis could collect disability but that he wanted to work. “He has a very serious medical condition,” Meil said. “His doctor has recommended that he treat with medical marijuana, which allows him to be functional, to be able to hold down a job.”
Meil said, “It’s kind of crazy if he loses a job because of that.”
And here is the issue with medical marijuana laws. Although 22 states have medical marijuana laws on the books, companies are still drug testing employees, and if there hasn’t been any updates to their employee policies, it’s a slippery slope.
When employees have challenged their companies, when it came to failing drug tests, the companies have so far won.
Davis, who completed the mandatory rehab, is still waiting the results of yet another drug test for yet another position he’s applied for at NJ Transit.
He said he stopped taking the medical marijuana in December.
“I wanted to be able to work without the pain and aggravation,” said Davis, a Christian who believes he is going through a temporary trial. “In salvation, it tells us our steps are ordered by the Lord. Things are going to happen in life that we don’t understand.”
New Jersey’s Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act decriminalizes the use of the drug for an approved list of patients authorized to use pot to treat debilitating conditions. But the 2010 law also says, “Nothing in this act shall be construed to require an employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace.”