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Tom McKay, PolicyMic
With legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington state and some form of medical marijuana available in 21 other states, you might think that you can't get into much trouble for complying with state ordinances on weed.
Not so. The federal prohibition on marijuana continues to be a real nuisance for states trying to go their own way on weed, with ganja's archaic Schedule I status causing real problems for users, distributors and dispensary employees.
Here are five awful ways people complying with state laws on marijuana use, often those with severe illnesses, are still getting in big trouble for smoking a plant 58% of Americans believe should be totally legal.
1. Get kicked out of your home
Lea Olivier, an 87-year-old Colorado woman, has a medical marijuana card and smokes weed to treat chronic pain. But she was still kicked out of her federally subsidized public housing project overseen by the Montezuma County Housing Authority after other residents reported the smell of marijuana to a compliance officer, reports Mic.
In states where weed is legal, federal rules have forced state and local authorities to enforce the federal prohibition on marijuana by evicting habitual low-income weed smokers. The Durango Herald reports that since Colorado's Amendment 64 went into effect, "six residents were required to vacate federal housing for violating the ban on marijuana use" out of a total of 393 low-income apartment units.
2. Get fired
Employers in the U.S. are generally free to set wide-ranging conditions of employment, including zero tolerance for drug use in states where those substances have been legalized for recreational or medical purposes. In Colorado, a judge backed the right of employers to fire people who tested positive for THC. Most other states with some form of legal marijuana have not passed laws protecting users from retaliation by their bosses.
Major employers like Wal-Mart continue to exercise that right to persecute even medical marijuana patients like Joseph Casias, a Michigan man with an inoperable brain tumor who was fired from the company in 2009. Earlier in August, a New Mexico woman named Donna Smith sued Presbyterian Health Services after her contract was terminated over medical marijuana, despite provisions in the New Mexico Human Rights Act which protect people with serious medical conditions from discrimination in hiring and firing practices. Dish Network fired a man taking marijuana for a spinal injury.
3. Lose your unemployment benefits
Being fired for smoking weed is considered an at-fault termination, which jeopardizes a former worker's ability to collect benefits like unemployment insurance. In Michigan, where doctors can legally prescribe marijuana to patients with serious ailments, a forklift driver and a hospital worker were both fired for using drugs off-premises under the advisement of their physicians and were subsequently refused unemployment benefits.
4. Get kicked out of college
Many universities have been adamant that medical marijuana prescriptions are no excuse for cannabis on campus. The Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts college students who use medical marijuana on school grounds could "face punishment ranging from a warning to expulsion," while the White House warned in 2011 that schools could lose federal funding if they failed to comply with national law.
5.Go to jail
The California branch of NORML and Americans For Safe Access calculated in June 2013 that around 335 defendants had been sentenced to over 500 years in combined prison time for violating federal marijuana laws in states where medical marijuana was legal.
A further report from AFSA estimated that the Obama administration had spent around $300 million in 2011 and 2012, including investigations, raids, arrests and sentencings, as well as seized vast amounts of private property.
If we're going actually legalize marijuana, isn't it about time we let people use it without fear of punishment?