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Nurse with Medical Marijuana Card Fired After Failing Drug Test


Around 18% of all Americans use marijuana now that it is legal across much of the U.S. So far, 21 states have legalized pot, but using the drug for recreational and even medicinal purposes in some states is still against the law. A nurse at the Cass County Jail in Fargo, North Dakota recently lost her job after failing a mandatory drug test even though she has a valid medical marijuana card.

Katie Rodacker-Bartch was fired from her post on March 28 after her coworkers complained of a strong smell of marijuana coming from her locker. But she quickly appealed the firing by claiming that the facility discriminated against her because of her disability and that her private medical records were shared as a result, which she described as “mortifying.”

She received her medical marijuana card from neighboring Minnesota where medical weed is legal. The nurse said she uses the drug as prescribed and that she takes it for mental health reasons.

But the Fargo Civil Service Commission voted 3-1 on April 3 to uphold her termination. Members of the commission said Rodacker-Bartch was fired because of the positive drug test, a clear violation of staff policy.

“She was tested for the use of a controlled substance due to reasonable suspicion and that test was positive,” said Fargo City Attorney Nancy Morris. “In other words, she was under the influence of a controlled substance while at work. Whether or not she was impaired is irrelevant under the circumstances.”

So, can nurses use medical marijuana?

According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, nurses who reside in states where medical marijuana is legal can have a card but the drug “cannot interfere with their work.”

If a nurse or doctor is caught with THC, the psychoactive portion of cannabis, in their system, they could face disciplinary action. However, Morris notes that marijuana impairment can be difficult to detect on the job. A provider may test positive for THC even if they aren’t currently under the influence.

Some facilities and companies have strict no-tolerance policies regarding marijuana and providers may lose their job if they are caught with the drug in the system regardless of impairment.

Morris said the firing of Rodacker-Bartch is unique because she was employed by the city’s department of public health but contracted to the county jail.

“Both of these entities have drug free policies in place,” said Desi Fleming, director of Fargo Cass Public Health. “Even if it was a medicinal use, they don’t allow that in correctional facilities.”

Under North Dakota law, it is illegal to bring the drug on correctional facility grounds, but an independent investigation couldn’t prove whether Rodacker-Bartch ever brought weed onto the premises.

 There’s also no evidence that she was impaired while at work.

“I did not violate said policies,” Rodacker-Bartch said. “I did not use or have marijuana on me while at the Cass County Jail.”

She believes she is being singled out because of her disability.

“These violations effectively released my medical information to multiple people and agencies that had no right to know about it,” Rodacker-Bartch said. “My medical information being represented and then weaponized against me, used to end my employment … it’s not only unjust, it’s mortifying.”

She claims that a urine test will reveal traces of the drug long after consumption has stopped and that the test she failed doesn’t indicate active impairment.

Rodacker-Bartch added that the smell likely followed her from home and that she didn’t bring weed to work.

“This is a very unfortunate situation,” Fleming said. “Any employee that has a prescribed controlled substance needs to go through our employee health program for that approval process.”

And Rodacker-Bartch failed to do this, according to Fleming. The nurse defended herself by saying she never disclosed her marijuana use to her employers because it doesn’t affect her work.

“I’m being fired for my mental health diagnoses,” Rodacker-Bartch said, adding she doesn’t understand why she is being penalized for taking her prescription during her off-hours. “Mental health is a huge deal, and it affects everybody in some sort of way. I don’t feel like people should have to be afraid of losing their job for treating their mental health.”

The state board of nursing is currently reviewing the case and her license remains active.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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