The NJ Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee hearing debated two marijuana bills on Monday, December 21, 2015, inside Trenton State House Annex Committee Room 1. Bill S-2898 sought to add PTSD to the state’s medical marijuana program, but this was not voted on that day. Bill S-3162, however, did pass the Committee (6-0, with one absentee), which sought to protect medical marijuana patients from drug testing at work.
The Committee meeting for S-3162 was the “first-ever hearing on legislation clarifying employment protections for medical marijuana patients,” reported the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Middlesex, Somerset and Union), who drafted and sponsored the CUMMA, introduced S-3162 to protect patients from getting fired from their employment due to cannabis usage. “It was not the intent of the legislature when we passed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act to allow patients to lose their jobs simply because of their use of medical marijuana,” said Scutari. “Medical marijuana should be treated like any other legitimate medication use by an employee.”
The first debate was over Bill S-2898, which sought to expand the state medical program to include PTSD patients. As of now, only 11 out of 23 states with medical marijuana cover PTSD. Ken Wolski of CMMNJ and Vanessa Maria of ECCC spoke on behalf of this bill, while myself and several others showed our support via a “write-in.” This meant we didn’t testify in person, but submitted a signature in support of the bill. In fact, the Committee reads the signatures in support prior to testimony, so when State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) began reading my name aloud he had to stop and let out a chuckle after seeing I signed under the Legalize Marijuana Party. Ken Wolski testified on the bill: “We believe it is a matter of of life and death because 22 [military] veterans commit suicide every day.” Vanessa Maria noted that NJ PTSD patients were stranded in hopelessness in NJ, unlike Delaware and Philly that have decriminalization to protect patients. This unfairly excluded not only PTSD patients, she said, but victims of abuse, sexual assault and other incidents that cause PTSD episodes.
The Insurance Council of New Jersey testified for an amendment to ensure that health insurance providers would not be liable to pay for reimbursements related to medical marijuana if the bill passes. But CUMMA already had this issue locked down, stating: “Nothing in this act shall be construed to require a government medical assistance program or private health insurer to reimburse a person for costs associated with the medical use of marijuana, or an employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace.”
But S-2898 wasn’t voted on that day. Ken Wolski spoke with the Committee afterward and learned they didn’t have enough votes that day to pass it because of absentees, but could possibly have enough at the next meeting, so it was placed on the side until then.
Then the public testimony began for S-3162. The Committee read out loud for nearly 30 seconds at least 14 write-in supporters, with Peter Rosenfeld of CMMNJ providing a public testimony in support. Rosenfeld gave examples of medical marijuana patients who lost their jobs because of turning up positive for marijuana, such as Don Dezarn at Princeton University. Then, Rosenfeld admitted he retired early out of fear of failing a drug test required for promotion.
Unfortunately, the NJ Civil Justice Institute and the NJ Food Council testified against the bill. Both were sent to lobby for their employers, which was carried out by a white, female representative for each. Talk about shady corporation lobbying: the first representative insisted her employer remain anonymous, while reassuring the court the business was only across the street. At this point one Committee member jokingly replied that her employer could even be the “potheads” across the street, referring to “NJ Weedman’s Joint.”
At one point, Aida Koss of Civil Justice Institute was caught off guard when asked why her employer discriminated against medical marijuana, but not against other prescribed drugs. She stumbled with her words and said, “Well, I’m not a doctor…” which was met with hysterical laughing by Vanessa and I, since she clearly had no medical knowledge of the subject. “The fact remains there are a significant number of positions for which an employer may believe that someone using marijuana is not a suitable candidate,” said Koss. “And for those positions, a doctor’s note is largely besides the point.” Mary Ellen Peppard, the Food Council’s lobbyist, suggested employees could use the proposed law to shield themselves from getting fired for other reasons.
The Committee pushed right on through the bull crap made by these lobbyists. Sen. Joseph Vitale, (D-Middlesex) committee chairman and bill sponsor, disagreed. “It’s unlikely someone can just get one of those cards. it’s a process. You just can’t walk in and ask for a card,” he said, adding, “Good try.” It was all over when Sen. Vitale said that. Marijuana won unanimously over lobbyists. Can the Marijuana Movement achieve People over Big Money?
Epilogue (updated 2-16-16)
S-3162, the “first-ever hearing on legislation clarifying employment protections for medical marijuana patients,” did not pass the State Senate. Nevertheless, it was reintroduced under the same language in 2016 as Assembly Bill 2482, filed by Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Burlington). According to the Daily Chronic, similar laws protecting medical patients from employer drug tests have already been passed in the following areas: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island.