Puerto Rico Signed Law Protecting Medical Marijuana Patients from Employment Discrimination
Act No. 15-2021 (Act 15) amends Puerto Rico’s Medicinal Cannabis Act, known as Act No. 42 or the “Act to Manage the Study, Development, and Research of Cannabis for Innovation, Applicable Standards and Limits.”
Act 15 categorizes medical marijuana patients in Puerto Rico as members of a protected class under the territory’s employment protection laws.
Therefore, employers may not single out registered medical cannabis patients during their employment processes, including recruitment, hiring, resignation, termination, or disciplinary actions.
Only qualified patients benefit from this new law’s provisions. Patients must exhibit qualified medical conditions to be eligible for cannabis treatment.
Certified marijuana doctors can grant recommendations for these patients.
Act 15 Provisions
Effective immediately, Act 15 protects registered and authorized medical marijuana patients in Puerto Rico against workplace discrimination.
Employees in the medical marijuana patient registry have protections against employers who may impose disciplinary action on them based on their marijuana usage.
This law addresses the existing marijuana law’s silence on worker rights of medical marijuana patients. Before this amendment, employers had the legal right to dismiss an employee or reject an applicant who tested positive for marijuana.
With new provisions, employees or applicants identifying as registered and authorized marijuana patients can safely stay at and enter a workplace despite their status.
Accordingly, employees must establish their status as medical marijuana patients in Puerto Rico.
What Act 15 Means for Employers
Employers also receive protections from this amendment. Under Act 15 provisions, employing a person registered and authorized as a medical cannabis patient in Puerto Rico is no suitable basis for denial or penalty against benefits, contracts, licenses, or permits under Puerto Rican laws.
In other words, employers can still apply for benefits or renew contracts despite employing registered medical marijuana patients.
Official bodies may not cite a medical marijuana patient under a person’s employment as a reason for rejecting legal contracts.
Meanwhile, employers have new obligations under Act 15. Employers must revise their working practices to accommodate these new medical marijuana employment protections.
The Act requires the Puerto Rico Department of Labor and Human Resources (DLHR) and the Medicinal Cannabis Regulatory Board (MCRB) to adopt and update their protocols and implement the Act’s statutes by October 27, 2021.
Exceptions to the New Law
Although no employer may discriminate against registered medical marijuana patients during their recruitment, hiring, or termination processes, the employee’s protections are not absolute under Act 15.
The new law favors the medical cannabis patient, but its provisions cannot protect a person if an employer can prove that these patients meet any of the following criteria:
- Threat of Harm: Employers who can establish that a person’s medical cannabis usage threatens or endangers people or property can cite their marijuana usage as grounds for refusing their application or terminating them.
- Poor Job Performance: Employers who gather a majority of evidence proving that a registered medical marijuana patient’s substance usage interferes with their essential job functions can dismiss them from the company.
- Potential Losses: Authorized medical marijuana patients whose medical cannabis usage exposes an employer to losses of licenses, permits, or certifications associated with any federal law, fund, program, or regulation have no protection under Act 15.
- Unauthorized Cannabis Usage: Employers must grant written authorization to registered medical marijuana patients to ingest or possess medical marijuana products in the workplace and during office hours. Act 15’s employee protections vanish once an employee uses products without employer authorization or knowledge. As such, employers must revise their working practices to accommodate the new law.
US States With Similar Protection Against Workplace Discrimination
Puerto Rico joins the many U.S. states with laws protecting qualified medical marijuana users’ employment rights.
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
At the same time, Connecticut, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York have state laws protecting the employment rights of recreational marijuana users.
Similar recreational marijuana protection laws exist in the following cities:
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Isle, Minnesota
- New York City, New York
- Rochester, New York
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Richmond, Virginia
- Washington, DC
Existing Puerto Rico Medical Marijuana Regulations
Medical marijuana law in Puerto Rico has been operational since 2015. This law allows qualified patients to possess a 30-day supply of non-smokable medical cannabis product forms.
As of March 2021, there are at least 114,274 registered medical marijuana patients in Puerto Rico.
New workplace protections for medical cannabis patients in Puerto Rico are in place because of Act 15-2021. This new law amends the U.S. territory’s medicinal marijuana act, which did not provide employment protections for registered and authorized medical marijuana patients.