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School District urged to rethink employee use of medical marijuana

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Since its use became legal in the state in 2019 a number of Floridians are relying on medical marijuana to relieve pain as well as nausea and tremors caused by treatments related to illnesses such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease. Now a member of the Hernando County School District (HCSD) Board wants the agency to rethink its policy regarding the use of medical marijuana by employees.

Filed Jan. 1, 2019, SB 182 legalized the use and possession of marijuana for medical use. The measure became effective on March 18, 2019, when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law.

While the use of medical marijuana became legal in the state of Florida, medical marijuana remains classified as a schedule 1 substance under the federal Controlled Substance Act.

According to its Public Information Officer (PIO) Karen Jordan, the Hernando County School District (HCSD) follows the federal law and does not differentiate between recreational and medical marijuana.

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“It stands, the Board must fire any employee who tests positive for marijuana,” Jordan said.

Employees who are fired may reapply for their jobs after one year.

During a recent workshop of the Hernando County School Board, Board member Jimmy Lodato called for the HCSD to rethink its current policy on grounds that retaining employees who can demonstrate that they are using marijuana for medical reasons is in the school district’s interest.

“We are talking about medical marijuana, and with employment as it is, we are (losing) good people who are getting help from medical marijuana,” Lodato said. “You could have someone who takes a pill for migraine headaches – are they going to lose their job?”

Still, agencies such as HCSD worry that policy changes that allow for medical marijuana use could put their federal funding in jeopardy.
The loss of those funds could be significant.

“From the June 2021 AFR (School District Annual Financial Reports) – HCSD received just over $14 million in federal funds,” Jordan said.

Even so, Lodato is not sure that the status of federal funding should figure significantly in the decision to allow medical marijuana use by HCSD employees.

“The board is worried about losing federal funding – maybe they would, maybe they won’t,” he said. “I believe that medical marijuana has a place in society for people who are suffering.”

So far, the Hernando County School Board has taken no action regarding its policy pertaining to employee use of medical marijuana,and is not currently planning any.

Meanwhile, Lodato hopes the District Board will reconsider.

“I would like to see the board and the state and the nation come into the 21st century,” he said. “I believe that we have to look at (medical marijuana policy) carefully.”

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