NEJC Chamber panel discussion focuses on navigating medical marijuana and the workplace

The panelists (from left to right) Jeff Donoho, Michael Poppa and Simon Casas answer questions posed by moderator Brian Brown (far left).

The NEJC Chamber on Thursday held a luncheon and panel discussion on medical marijuana.

Three panelists — an attorney with Kennyhertz Perry Law Firm, Jeff Donoho; Occupational Consulting Services physician Michael Poppa; and The HR Office Chief Executive Officer Simon Casas — discussed medical, legal and workplace concerns about medical marijuana.

In light of the state’s eastern neighbor legalizing medical marijuana, the NEJC Chamber decided it was a timely topic that would educate its members.

“The Chamber thought it was rather appropriate to introduce this program, because people that live in Missouri may not be mutually exclusive to working just in that state,” said Brian Brown, the moderator and TeamHealth director of post acute business development. “Many of you here probably do employ individuals that live in Missouri.”

Missouri arrived at the point of legalizing medical marijuana because people were approaching their physicians about alternative treatments and contacted their legislators, Poppa said. Poppa is licensed in both Kansas and Missouri, and he said Missouri has done a good job identifying a list of qualifying medical conditions for residents to receive a medical marijuana card.

Some of those conditions include cancer, epilepsy and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), but the list also included emotional and psychological conditions, Poppa said. Missourians must prove they are qualified with documentation, including a diagnosis, patient visits and a list of pharmaceuticals, he said.

“We need Kansas to get on board, hopefully soon,” Poppa said. “I feel sorry for people that live in Kansas who have chronic medical conditions, chronic pain, chronic physical, emotional or psychological conditions — their only recourse is to travel to Colorado and get stopped by highway patrol and get busted.”

Missourians who may work in Kansas and are using medicinal marijuana don’t necessarily have to disclose the fact that they’re using it to their employer, Casas said. Additionally, Casas suggested employers take the time to look over their employee handbook, with special attention to the alcohol and drug policy.

If an employer is concerned about an employee’s drug usage, Casas said they must be absolutely sure about the usage prior to approaching the employee. Claiming an employee is using a drug without being sure could land the company in a mountain of trouble, he said. Overall, Casas said employers should be mindful when it comes to medical marijuana.

“You need to be considerate about it,” Casas said. “Everybody is different, everybody has their own issues. We have to be able to help people really understand what’s going on, regardless of the issue in the workplace.”

Donoho echoed Casas’ point regarding the employee handbook. Donoho said if an employer wants to maintain a drug-free environment, it would be a good idea to make sure the corresponding policies make sense in light of the new laws. When it comes to worker’s compensation potentially involving medical marijuana, Donoho said a court could side with the employer or the employee. A case in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, went all the way to the state Supreme Court and sided with the employer, he said.

With medicinal marijuana now legal just across State Line Road, an audience member asked if Kansas law enforcement is now recognizing Missouri medical marijuana cards. Donoho said the Missouri card is only valid in Missouri and in states with similar programs, but not Kansas.

“As far as Kansas goes, a medical marijuana card isn’t going to do anything, it’s still illegal,” Donoho said. “Marijuana is illegal for all purposes in Kansas — with no exceptions.”