Lawmakers Urged to Act after Methuen Woman Fired for Pot Smoking

Senate Rebukes Sessions

Since Massachusetts legalized the use of recreational marijuana, it should be perfectly okay for adults that are 21-years and older to use it. However, a woman from Methuen learnt the hard way that this is not true of the workplace. After failing a drug test, Sodexo, the international food services company, fired the woman for having marijuana in her blood.

She is now urging state lawmakers to act. “I do not want to see this happen to anybody else,” the woman, Bernadette Coughlin, said. With that hope, she brought her lawyer along to the Cannabis Control Commission in Boston on Tuesday. Coughlin was an employee for Sodexo, but she fell and broke her arm one night on the job.

“I broke my arm in two places,” Coughlin explained, “and six days later they drug tested me. I failed for marijuana and they fired me.” She claims to use marijuana at home to relax on the odd occasion. “For me, I just prefer to take a couple of puffs off a vape pen. I absolutely thought that it was fine because it was legal in Massachusetts,” she said.

However, there are no protections for employees using marijuana recreationally in the state, even if they use it at home and not on the job. It is different for medical cannabis patients. Since a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling some time ago, the state offers protection for patients from job dismissal if they test positive for cannabis consumption.

Coughlin believes that the state should offer similar protections to recreational users, as well. She and her attorney turned to the chairperson of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission to ask for help. “The chair was very cordial and I think sympathetic to not only our case, but the issue more broadly,” Coughlin’s attorney, David Hadas, said of the meeting.

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However, Chairman Steve Hoffman stated that the Commission lacks the authority and jurisdiction over private employers. Instead, Hoffman says that state lawmakers are the only ones with the power to act. “I hope the legislature consider this,” he said. “I would not go beyond that, but I hope they consider this issue.” The problem will only escalate as pot stores start opening their doors across the state.

“If you are being told this is a legal substance, you are free to use it, and then your life gets turned upside down because you lose your job,” Hadas queried, “I do not think that is a very fair result.” A big factor complicating the entire debate is the issue that, while cannabis is now legal in Massachusetts, it is still illegal at the federal level.

Sodexo, Coughlin’s now former employer, told reporters that the company is now evaluating their drug testing policies following the clearly changing legal landscape. More companies should do the same. As long as employees refrain from using marijuana during work hours, there should be no consequences to them using it at home, after hours, particularly since it is lawful and well within their rights to do so.

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