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N.L. worker claims companies refusing him jobs because of medical marijuana prescription

N.L. worker claims companies refusing him jobs because of medical marijuana prescription

Glen Whiffen glen.whiffen@tc.tc
Published on April 5, 2017

Veteran construction worker Scott Tizzard says he’s being denied work, all because he’s been prescribed medical marijuana.

Scott Tizzard of Torbay says he is being discriminated against by companies he should have been working for over the past several months.

The reason? Taking his doctor-prescribed medical marijuana.

My prescription is a gram and half a day, at 22 per cent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in cannabis), and I don’t smoke it at work. I only smoke in the evenings when I get home to relax me so I can get a night’s sleep. I suffer it out during the day. All the marijuana does is make me comfortable when I get home and gives me a good night’s sleep

Tizzard has worked construction in the province for 30 years, going from big project to big project wherever the work has taken him, and wherever dispatched by his union.

Described by co-workers as a hard worker, for many of those years he’d worked long-hour days battling the pain and discomfort of Crohn’s disease and osteoarthritis.

He’s been prescribed countless medications by his family doctor over the years, trying to find a balance of medications that would counter the pain of the osteoarthritis and not cause his Crohn’s disease to flare up.

That often failed until his doctor suggested medical marijuana.

“The catch with me is that I have Crohn’s disease and osteoarthritis. So, in taking the pills for the osteoarthritis it burns the stomach out of me from the Crohn’s disease,” Tizzard said. “I put in some awful days at work, doing everything I can like skipping lunch so the Crohn’s wouldn’t act up.

“My prescription is a gram and half a day, at 22 per cent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in cannabis), and I don’t smoke it at work. I only smoke in the evenings when I get home to relax me so I can get a night’s sleep. I suffer it out during the day. All the marijuana does is make me comfortable when I get home and gives me a good night’s sleep.”

Tizzard was working on a major contract last April related to the Lower Churchill project when he first started the process of receiving medical marijuana, and filled his first prescription in early May. Immediately, he informed his supervisor of the prescription and nothing changed. He continued to work every day and take his medical marijuana at night.

“My first prescription was filled on May 6 and I let my superintendent know the first day I got my card,” he said. “The union told me, when I actually got the card, that if I disclosed it to the company I was working with at the time, they could very well ask me to leave the site. But, if they did, the union would be 100 per cent behind me and would fight it.

“I had to tell the company about it. If I didn’t and if there was an incident, I would have had to get a drug test.”

Tizzard got laid off from that job last October when the work ended and was immediately placed at the top of the union list (in part because he was a shop steward) to be dispatched to another job by the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) Local 1620.

In November 2016, Tizzard bid on a job and was dispatched by the union to that job providing he take a drug and alcohol test as is required, and was accepted by the company.

“When I went to the Fit for Work place, the union told me that when you go present your (medical marijuana) card and you should be good to go,” he said. “When I showed up for my drug and alcohol test the lady said, ‘no, we don’t take those. The lab will call you and inform you that you failed the test, and you have to disclose that to the company’.”

The laboratory in North Bay, Ont., did call Tizzard and informed him he had THC in his system and that he failed the test.

“I said yes, I knew I would, I have a medicinal marijuana prescription and it was noted on the bottom of the paper you asked me to fill out. There are only three prescriptions on it — two for Crohn’s disease and the one for medicinal cannabis,” Tizzard said. “He said he must have overlooked it. I asked him if he’d disclose it to the company for me and he said yes. Two buddies who took the test the same time as me for the same type of job began work and I still didn’t receive a call.

“So I called the company and a woman told me the lab called and told them that I failed the test. She said the lab didn’t inform them that I had a medical marijuana card. The woman then said I’d have to get a note from my doctor.”

Tizzard obtained a note from his doctor. The note, from the Cannabinoid Medical Clinic, states that Tizzard “is being treated for chronic pain from osteoarthritis and does not take anything during the work day, but puts up with the pain, which is fatiguing.

“He has trialled multiple pain medications through his family doctor, with very poor GI tolerance because of his Crohn’s disease.”

The note outlines a long list of medications Tizzard has tried in the past four years without success, and that he is currently prescribed 1.5 grams per day of herbal cannabis, THC less than 20 per cent, vaporized. And after taking his medicinal marijuana, Tizzard is restricted from driving or working for four hours.

Tizzard said from the time he takes his medical marijuana in the early evening to the time he goes to work the next morning, it is well over four hours and there is, in his opinion, no issue regarding being impaired on the job.

“I got the doctor’s letter, emailed it off to the company and they come back with more papers for the doctor to fill out,” he said. “They sent me three pdf files on my phone. My doctor was like, ‘no, I can’t fill them out’ because of the time and the fact they wanted a very detailed medical history.

“Then they wanted me to sign a consent form so they could access my medical file. I said ‘no’ you are not getting access to my medical file and my union agreed that the letter from my doctor, with the prescription information, the medical conditions, the previous medications I had been prescribed and why I’m taking it should be enough information.”

In February, Tizzard bid on another job and ran into the same kind of roadblocks.

Over the past number of months, IBEW Local 1620 has been working with Tizzard on the case and trying to negotiate and grieve the issue against the companies.

Don Murphy, business manager with IBEW Local 1620, told The Telegram that the union could not comment on a specific member’s case but said the issue of medicinal marijuana is new ground for a union to be dealing with.

“Impairment, specifically relating to employment, is very concerning.  Local 1620 does not in any way support workers to be impaired whatsoever on the job,” he said. “Workers have to be safe. We have very strong language in all our collective agreements committing to that.

“The present challenge for us, as a union, is that we have to represent all our members to ensure they are being treated fairly. I, like employers, wish we could turn a blind eye to our medicinal marijuana workers but for a union, it is law that a union has to represent them. Having said that, we are co-operatively working through these issues with our employers.”

New territory

The issue of medical marijuana — and the likelihood of legalization of marijuana in the next couple of years — is new territory for employers, unions, justice departments and professional health organizations to deal with.
There’s an old stigma attached to marijuana that creates challenges in dealing with medical marijuana, combined with a lack of clear legislation. Health Canada is constantly developing and updating its regulations as medical marijuana is being prescribed for an increasing number of health conditions, as well as the pending legalization of the substance.
The federal government has stated it is aiming to make marijuana legal for recreational use by July of 2018.

Nalcor Energy, the province’s energy corporation leading the Lower Churchill development, like other major corporations, has in place alcohol and drug program requirements for contractors bidding on Lower Churchill-related work.

A document outlines the minimum requirements contractors must have in place for its employees and site safety, to ensure that employees are not impaired by drug or alcohol on the job.

“I don’t want to be impaired on the job. I will abide by the doctor’s restrictions,” Tizzard said. “I followed all the right avenues in doing this. I’m not one to try to hide it, to not disclose it. Why is it legal to issue it if you are not allowed to use it? They should have given me a disability card to go with it, if it is this much trouble. It’s nothing but a runaround, a nightmare.

“I haven’t been able to work for months because of this and I should have been at work. If I didn’t have some money put away I’d be at the food bank by now.

“I don’t know what to do, other than quit taking my medication so I can go to work. And that defeats the purpose. It’s a medical prescription like other medications prescribed by doctors. As far as I’m concerned I was declined work, discriminated against, because I was legally prescribed medicinal marijuana for my health issues.”