AKRON, Ohio -- An ordinance that would prohibit employees of Summit County from using or possessing medical marijuana while on the job is on its way to being passed by members of the county council.
The proposed ordinance declared an emergency in the interest of the health, safety and welfare of the residents of the county of Summit.
It would prohibit county employees from using medical marijuana if they are under its influence while in the course of their employment.
It also prohibits them from possessing medical marijuana or paraphernalia while on county property or in a county vehicle.
"We think that, as the county, we have chosen a reasonable path where we have set in place several guidelines to ensure the safety of the people we serve, the safety of our employees, and maintaining a drug-free workplace," said council member at-large Elizabeth Walters.
Walters says the council will not deny employees who have a valid medical recommendation or refuse their right to use medicinal marijuana while away from work in their private time, understanding that Ohio law allows for its legitimate and legal use as medicine.
"Really the categories that the state has laid out for treatment that this is a valid treatment for are those conditions where science and research has shown that they are making headway in the treatment of chronic pain, the treatment of PTSD and traumatic brain injury -- a whole host of other issues where this can be really beneficial," said Walters.
The proposed ordinance would go go even further in prohibiting the use of medical marijuana by employees with specific job requirements.
"There's a class of employees that we have, that we have outlined that cannot use medical marijuana -- that is safety-oriented personnel, so anybody with a commercial driver's license, anybody who is required as a term of their employment with the county to carry a firearm; they will not be permitted to use medical marijuana," said Walters.
It would also deny workman's compensation benefits to any employees who have an accident in the workplace and test positive for the presence of medical marijuana.
Walters says the ordinance is not much different than restrictions already in place for certain other prescription medications.
"A great example is someone who would have a legal opiate prescription to deal with chronic pain. They may have a prescription from their physical, but under county guidelines they cannot use that or be under the influence of that medication while at work or during the term of their employment during the day," said Walters.
But advocates for medicinal marijuana believe patients who can legally use medicinal marijuana are being disenfranchised by their own employers.
"I understand their concern for wanting to maintain a safe and productive workforce and I think there's a lot of misunderstanding from the employment side of what is involved in some of their employees being medical cannabis patients and that is what we are targeting to do going forward is educating the employers," said John Pardee, President Emeritus of The Ohio Rights Group.
"This is going to be so important going forward. We want to reach out to the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and other business groups and start educating them about what this is because I think they are operating on a set of understanding that is outdated and I don't think they understand the full spectrum of medicinal cannabis; not all medicinal cannabis compounds involve patients getting high," said Pardee.
He also says that even if a county employee only uses medical marijuana at their home or in their personal time, if there is an accident at work and they are tested they may test positive for the drug for as much as three weeks afterwards.
In their medical marijuana legislation, Ohio lawmakers specifically allowed employers, including charter counties like Summit and Cuyahoga counties, to create their own rules regarding their employees' use of medical marijuana.
Walters says Summit County's proposed ordinance was thoroughly researched by county staff and she believes it to be reasonable.
"We do expect that this probably isn't the final guidelines that we will pass as a county over the next one to two years. We are sure there will be adjustments and there may even be legal precedent that comes out that requires or helps us change and adjust our statute but, for now, we think this is a reasonable stand," said Walters.