Miami City Employee Says He Was Fired for Using Medical Marijuana

Photo by Owen Byrne / Flickr
More than 70 percent of Floridians voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2016, yet many local governments still have bizarrely hostile relationships with pot. Take the City of Miami. Despite the fact that Miami-area cops have the option to issue tickets for weed, a New Times investigation found that they're instead still arresting thousands of mostly minority residents for weed. Elsewhere, city officials have compared legalizing pot to legalizing pedophilia, and have been accused of trying to push dispensaries out of the city.

Now, a city worker claims in court that he was canned after he failed a drug test, despite the fact that he had a legal medical-pot card. In lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade County Court on August 23, ex-city worker Alan J. McDuffie alleges that the city fired him even after he warned his employers that he was legally allowed to ingest THC. He's now suing for employment discrimination.

McDuffie says he worked as a part-time ground-maintenance worker from 2014 to December 26, 2017. After applying in January 2017 for a full-time gig with the department, he found himself briefly out of work after undergoing knee surgery. He also started suffering from back spasms.

Rather than rely on pharmaceuticals, McDuffie instead sought out legal cannabis to relieve his chronic knee and back pain. In July 2017, he got a medical cannabis car, he says. The suit doesn't say exactly how McDuffie began using marijuana or where he obtained it, but until mid-2018, the state had only legalized vaporized marijuana, edible cannabis, or weed oils, in lieu of smoking. (A judge struck that smoking ban down in May, but the state has since appealed.)

In the meantime, McDuffie's job application process was going well. He'd set up interviews with the city. And, in November 2017, he scored an interview for a full-time "laborer" job. During the interview, he said he told the city he'd obtained a legal medical marijuana card and was smoking to alleviate symptoms from his injuries. He did well in the interview and was then called in to take a drug test — and, when he arrived for the test, he presented a copy of his medical-cannabis license.

Obviously, he tested positive for weed. But instead of earning the full-time gig, he says the city fired him outright instead.

"Defendant terminated and/or failed to hire Plaintiff because of his medical Cannabis [use] due to his disability," the suit reads. McDuffie's lawyer, Jason Remer, did not respond to a message from New Times. Miami city attorneys don't comment on active litigation as a policy.

The internet is awash with stories and legal advice pages questioning whether companies can fire medical-cannabis users, because as more and more states have legalized marijuana use in some form or another, clashes with employers have become inevitable. Courts across the country have generally held that employers can still fire medical pot users for smoking, even if they have proper documentation and licensing.

Ben Pollara, a Miami campaign consultant and activist who headed the United for Care campaign that got Amendment 2 approved in 2016, confirmed to New Times that there is no specific language in Florida's medical marijuana amendment that protects employees from getting fired for medical cannabis use. He also noted that virtually all court rulings around the country have favored the rights of employers to fire employees who use marijuana as legal medicine.

"It's an unfortunate feature of the medical marijuana laws in 31 states," Pollara said. "Every ruling I've ever seen has been favorable to employers on this."

Last month, a city employee in Valparaiso, Florida was fired for smoking marijuana. In that case, the employee, who won the city's 2016 Employee of the Year award while working for Valparaiso's city-owned cable company, received a marijuana card to treat chronic pain. The city fired him anyway.

Miami's attorneys have not yet responded to McDuffie's complaint in court. But some city attorneys sure have some oddball thoughts about legal weed. In 2017, Assistant City Attorney Barnaby Min tried to explain why the city remained hostile to opening up its zoning code for medical cannabis dispensaries and ended up comparing people trying to get medicine for chronic pain to people who want to assault children.

"If the City of Miami for some infinite, god-forbidden reason thought having sex with a child was a great way to recover from some issue, and so we wrote it into our city code, just because the city says it's legal does not mean it's legal," he said. "So just because for marijuana, we say marijuana is legal and the state says it's legal, until the federal government says it's legal, it is not legal."

As it turns out, Min was an even worse messenger for that statement that it seemed. New Times later obtained documents showing that Min repeatedly emailed the word "penis" to a female city employee whom he'd tried to date. He got caught but ostensibly received zero discipline.

Miami cops have also continued to arrest marijuana smokers. Miami-Dade County in 2015 began allowing police the discretion to simply issue tickets to people caught with less than 20 grams of weed, a measure that was heralded as both a cost-saving move and a way to keep nonviolent weed smokers out of jail.

But according to an August New Times investigation, the Miami Police Department, to this day, has not begun issuing weed citations. Mostly black and brown people keep getting arrested, even though rates of marijuana use are fairly equal among all races. Pot arrests across the county have gone up, rather than down.