State job opportunities limited for medical cannabis patients in New Mexico

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Since New Mexico’s medical cannabis program – the “Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act” – went into effect following legalization in 2007, thousands of patients have enrolled in the program. As of February 28, 2019, 70,109 patients were registered.

Patient figures have steadily climbed in recent months; following September’s expansion of New Mexico’s medical cannabis program for out-of-state residents by legislators and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. While the law has many benefits for patients, it also safeguards employers, who can dismiss or reject prospective job applicants for being a cannabis consumer. Employees who go against the rules could potentially miss out on federal funding.

Patients who receive medical cannabis in New Mexico are concerned about the fact that working requirements are stricter for roles that are not safety-sensitive. The problem for qualifying patients is that, should they be qualified for a particularly safety-sensitive job role, they may be turned away. As a result, patients are left with limited choice for employment opportunities.

Medical cannabis in New Mexico: Workplace intoxication could pose major safety risk 

Current testing procedures for cannabis intoxication are not completely accurate, making it impossible for officials to fully determine an individual’s level of impairment. Since the majority of drug screen tests assess the metabolite composition inside a person’s body, officials can only ascertain what substance has been broken down, as opposed to the quantity.

Nonetheless, drug screening is absolutely imperative, considering the fact that an individual who is impaired and is driving/operating heavy machinery may cause a risk to themselves and others. In spite of the pre-employment rules for New Mexico’s medical cannabis patients, Lujan Grisham’s Deputy Director of Communications, Judy Gibbs Robinson says that opportunities still exist for consumers seeking out employment. 

“The state does not require drug testing for all employees–only for those in safety-sensitive positions,” said Robinson. “So, depending on the medical cannabis patient’s job interest, it is quite possible no drug testing would be required, ever.”

Medical cannabis in New Mexico: Pre-employment drug tests required for safety-sensitive job roles

“A position in which performance by a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol would constitute an immediate or direct threat of injury or death to that person or another,” is the definition of a safety-sensitive job, based on state law. Obligatory drug tests are standard for a range of roles that involve the use of heavy machinery, as well as for those who work in hazardous environments. 

While some safety-sensitive jobs may only require education up to 8th grade or even lower, the same job may require potential employees to participate in a pre-employment drug screening; medical cannabis users would likely fail this screening. In regards to roles that are not safety-sensitive, many independent contractors stand to make a better income if they do not take these kinds of jobs.

Medical cannabis patients in New Mexico can – according to the State Personnel Office (SPO) – “occupy jobs in state government.” They can’t, however, land a state government role if the position is safety-sensitive. The same rule applies if the department runs the risk of losing federal funding due to an employee being impaired in the workplace.