A Thomas Jefferson University Employee Was Fired Over Medical Marijuana Use. So She Fired Back.

The university is home to a medical marijuana research center.

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A former employee of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia has sued the school for wrongful termination. She claims to have been using medical marijuana on a doctor's orders, but the university fired her after a drug test found THC in her blood.

What's made the case get more attention is that Thomas Jefferson University is home to the Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis & Hemp. The university established the center with a $3 million donation from the Australian couple Barry and Joy Lambert. 

When he donated, Lambert said he hoped the university's "innovative, scientific approach would prove to the medical profession the benefits and safety of medicinal cannabis for a broad range of illnesses, not just childhood epilepsy."

The former employee who filed the lawsuit, Donna Hudnell, told the Philadelphia Inquirer about the school's research: "How ironic, and yet you have no leniency with your medical marijuana policy."

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Here's what the former employee said happened.

Hudnell, who is 60, said she has suffered from chronic back pain for many years. The situation has only gotten worse with age. She told the Inquirer she experienced trouble "sitting, walking, sleeping."

 

Her doctor recommended medical marijuana, and it worked. She experienced less pain. But then the university asked her to take a drug test after she returned from medical leave. She had been out undergoing back surgery in hopes of further alleviating the pain.

Hudnell's medical marijuana card had expired two months before she took the test in 2019. Hudnell said she explained to the person giving the test that she had a doctor's appointment the following week to get the annual recertification needed for medical marijuana use.

But Hudnell was fired five days later - the same day she got the card recertified, as it turned out. The university told Hudnell she had violated its drug and alcohol policy.

She has now filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the university violated Pennsylvania law that states you cannot fire a person for medical marijuana use. When she lost her job, Hudnell had worked for the university for five years in the IT department.

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The case puts the limelight on the issue of drug tests and marijuana.

While Hudnell will have the chance to sort this all out in court - the university failed to get the case dismissed and has not commented on the case because it's ongoing - the issue of drug testing for marijuana remains a big one.

That's because THC, the active chemical compound in cannabis, stays in the bloodstream for many days. So, someone such as Hudnell, who used medical marijuana as prescribed by a doctor for a year, will have THC in the bloodstream. The same could be said for someone who smokes a joint on Friday night and then gets drug tested on Monday morning.

Legal observers told the Inquirer that many are watching the case against Thomas Jefferson University because it could set a precedent for how other employers handle such cases.

In the meantime, some have simply gotten rid of drug testing for cannabis. Even the NFL, which recently changed its rules on marijuana use, is not suspending players who test positive for THC

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