Columbus Dispatch. June 14, 2022.
Editorial: LCSD playing with fire in its proposed medical marijuana policy
From the moment the Mississippi Legislature passed a law to create a medical marijuana program in January, it was inevitable that litigation would follow.
While medical marijuana won’t even be available in the state until near the end of the year, the Lowndes County School District may be first in line when a qualified medical marijuana patient is fired or denied employment based on that fact alone.
The LCSD Board of Trustees is expected to vote on new language regarding the use of medical marijuana in July when it approves its handbook. The proposed language forbids use or possession of medical marijuana on campus – which is obviously reasonable – but goes much further than that.
The policy states the district can “refuse to hire, discharge, discipline, or otherwise take an adverse employment action against an individual with respect to hiring, discharging, tenure, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment as a result, in whole or in part, of that individual’s use of medical cannabis, regardless of the individual’s impairment or lack of impairment resulting from the use of medical cannabis.”
And that’s likely where the trouble will begin.
Medical marijuana has been available in some states for 20 years and over that time there have been cases where an employee has been fired for using medical marijuana. Lawsuits by fired employees filed in federal court have been universally rejected because marijuana is an illegal drug at the federal level even though the language of the Americans with Disabilities Act makes exceptions for those with medical disability who use prescription drugs.
In recent years, however, those lawsuits have been more successful in state courts.
This year alone, state courts in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire ruled that people who qualify for medical marijuana cannot be fired on the basis of usage alone. In New Jersey, a federal court ruled that a medical marijuana user could sue in state court for wrongful termination.
There have been cases in some states where lawsuits against employers were rejected because the state disability statutes offered no relief.
That does not appear to be the case in Mississippi, though.
The Discrimination in State Employment Law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability (MS Code Section. 25-9-103). The Handicapped Discrimination in State Employment Law prohibits discrimination against an individual who is blind, visually handicapped, or otherwise physically handicapped unless the disability materially affects the performance of the work required by the job. The law explicitly applies to public school employees (MS Code Sec. 43-6-15). The State Personnel Board has issued a statement of equal opportunity employment for all individuals, and follows the guidelines set forth by the ADA.
The ADA prohibits employers from inquiring about disabilities until after a conditional offer of employment. It also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for the known physical and mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals who are applicants or employees, provided such accommodations do not create an undue hardship.
A “disability” is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having an impairment.
Beyond that, determining if an employee is under the effects of marijuana is difficult to prove. Marijuana can be detected in urine tests for up to 28 days.
Meanwhile, the board has no policy on employees who have prescriptions for other, more powerful and more dangerous drugs such as opioids, which are detectable in urine for two to seven days and in hair follicle testing for 90 days.
That the LCSD Board would have a policy for medical marijuana but not for opioids says much about the board’s skepticism about the legitimacy of medical marijuana.
This policy may or may not be legal, but it definitely isn’t fair.
We suggest the board pump the brakes on this policy.
After all, no one should want to be the first to be sued and certainly not when taxpayers have to foot the bill.
Greenwood Commonwealth. June 11, 2022.
Editorial: The High Cost Of Homicides
After the 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, law enforcement critics said local governments needed to defund the police. Shad White, the state auditor for Mississippi, has released a report that says exactly the opposite.
His report says that the taxpayer cost of each homicide is prohibitively expensive — between $900,000 and $1.2 million, according to the research conducted by the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform.
These costs include crime scene work and cleanup, medical treatment for the victim, law enforcement investigation, prosecution of the crime and prison time for the defendant.
White’s report says that if the criminal justice statistics are accurate, the 152 homicides in Jackson during 2021 cost governments and taxpayers somewhere between $136 million and $182 million.
The report also cited National Bureau of Economic Research information that says each additional police officer employed can prevent between 0.06 and 0.10 homicides per year. To put it another way, every 10 officers added to a police department have the potential to eliminate one homicide annually.
This is particularly relevant to Mississippi.
“Since 2018, Mississippi has had a higher homicide rate than any other state in the country,” White’s report said. “Jackson, the state capital, had more homicides per capita than any other major metropolitan area in the country last year. Hinds County, home of the state’s capital city, has led the state in reported homicides for all years with available data.”
So it’s not just Jackson. The city gets the most publicity about its homicides because the city’s media outlets rightfully report them in detail. But the entire state leads the nation in the percentage of residents who die as a result of a violent crime.
White’s point is that these fatalities, in addition to the lives cut short and the pain inflicted on the victim’s survivors, come with a sizable financial price. And research indicates that one way to reduce that is to increase the number of police officers.
There’s more to be done, though. The report notes that if Jackson hired 100 more police officers, they would prevent an estimated 6 to 10 homicides per year. That’s not a large number of the city’s 152 deaths last year.
The report said preventing those homicides would save $5.4 million to $12 million in government expenses, and suggests further savings in life and money if those savings are put back into hiring even more officers.
Left unaddressed in the report is how a city or county with a high homicide rate should pay for extra officers. To reduce deaths and save money, they have to make the law enforcement investment up front. That’s a challenge.
Also, White suggests that Mississippi should incarcerate violent criminals for longer stretches of time. That seems to be a throw-back to the tough-on-crime posture Mississippi took in the mid-1990s, which produced a “truth-in-sentencing” law that became prohibitively expensive.
Still, this is an interesting report from White. It certainly adds to the belief that, like his auditor predecessors Phil Bryant and Ray Mabus, he has his sights set on higher office.
Read the full article here