LABI Input Needed to Shape Medical Marijuana Workplace Policy

BATON ROUGE — A state panel has three weeks left to wrap up work on draft legislation to protect workers who use medical marijuana. Before then, members hope to get feedback from a very influential business lobbying group, without which approval of the proposals is unlikely. 

Louisiana’s Employment and Medical Marijuana Task Force met Tuesday with a Dec. 21 deadline looming to submit its recommendations to state lawmakers. Kevin Caldwell, who represents the Marijuana Policy Project, said he and other members hope to convene twice more before that deadline.

Created through a resolution Rep. Mandie Landry (D-New Orleans) sponsored, the task force has spent months looking at other states’ laws to draft proposals. According to testimony throughout the meetings, members are most concerned with protecting medical cannabis patients from the consequences of failing employment drug screenings. 

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Currently, Louisiana employees are protected from failed drug tests if they have a valid prescription for the drug in question, such as an opioid or amphetamine. 

Task force member Troy Prevot, a physician’s assistant and expert on workplace drug testing, told his colleagues that employers don’t even see the failed drug test if the worker has a valid prescription. The drug testing provider reports it as if the worker passed the test, he said. 

Peter Robins-Brown, who represents advocacy group Louisiana Progress on the task force, said the most straightforward solution seems to be legislation that would treat a physician’s medical marijuana recommendation in the same manner as other traditional prescriptions for the purposes of drug testing. 

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The task force is also researching ways to limit employer liability for discrimination and intoxicated employees at the workplace. So far, this issue has taken more of a backseat to the problem surrounding employment drug testing, and some members worry the Republican-majority legislature has little appetite for expanding employee rights if it could be detrimental to the business climate.  

Task force members have conceded that most of the lawmaking power, when it comes to commerce or labor issues, exists not with the elected lawmakers but with Baton Rouge lobbyist Jim Patterson, vice president of government relations of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. 

Patterson’s influence on legislation at the State Capitol was discussed at earlier task force meetings, and members said they would try to get him to participate in their work in an effort to shore up his support. Thus far, it’s unclear what position Patterson might take, though LABI’s task force designee, Prevot, has taken a lead on most meeting discussions.

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LABI staff did not respond Tuesday to the Illuminator’s request for comment. 

Landry said it would be impossible to approve legislation affecting the private business sector without Patterson’s support. 

“I don’t think we can touch private business without LABI on board, and I don’t see that happening,” Landry said in a text message. “They’re too powerful.”

Task force members said they plan to begin an email thread with one another in the coming weeks to work through their draft recommendations.

By Louisiana Illuminator reporter Wesley Muller

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