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Florida Teacher In Danger of Losing His Job Because He Uses Medical Marijuana

The board of Marion County Public Schools in Florida has suspended a Belleview High School teacher and student services manager over his use of medical cannabis. Mike Hickman, 50, was placed on unpaid leave after the Superintendent of Schools, Heidi Maier, recommended he be fired for testing positive for cannabinoids in early November 2019. Hickman is a registered cannabis patient under Florida’s 2016 medical cannabis law. And a physician licensed under the state’s program to recommend medical cannabis issued Hickman a recommendation for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, which is an approved condition.

Now, Hickman, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the early 1990s, is fighting for his job back—and his livelihood.

Former Marine and High School Dean Placed on Unpaid Leave for Medical Cannabis Use

When a fight broke out between students at Marion County, Florida’s Belleview High on November 5, Mike Hickman did what any teacher would do: he tried to stop it. In the process, Hickman injured his shoulder, kicking off a chain of events that would lead to his suspension and possible dismissal from the Marion County Public School system.

As part of seeking a worker’s compensation claim for the shoulder injury he incurred on the job, Hickman had to see the district’s worker compensation doctor. Virtually every worker’s compensation case requires drug testing employees involved. And the results of Hickman’s urine drug test came back positive for cannabinoids.

The doctor reported the drug test results to the school district, since Marion County Public Schools has a zero-tolerance alcohol and drug-free workplace policy. When School Board superintendent Maier received the report, she issued the recommendation to fire Hickman.

Hickman appealed the school board’s move to fire him. And as a result, the board placed him on unpaid leave, pending the results of the case. But school officials say the appeal process could take eight to ten months to play out. In the meantime, Hickman is out of a job, has no income and cannot teach in Marion Country schools.

Florida’s Medical Cannabis Law Does Not Require Employers to Accommodate Patients

Under Florida law, there’s absolutely nothing illegal about Hickman’s use of medical cannabis. He’s a combat veteran, and his military service left him with a diagnosed case of PTSD. “To alleviate the effects of PTSD, Hickman was prescribed medical marijuana by a licensed physician in accordance with the laws of the State of Florida,” wrote Hickman’s attorney, Mark Herdman, in a letter to the school district.

Furthermore, the fact that Hickman tested positive for cannabinoids on a urine drug test does not indicate that he was under the influence of THC at work. Urine tests simply indicate prior cannabis use up to several weeks. Mark Avery, president of the local teacher’s union that’s standing up for Hickman, said that Hickman never used medical cannabis at school, only at home.

“Hickman’s use of legally prescribed medication had no effect on his ability to perform his job duties and responsibilities,” Herdman wrote in the letter announcing Hickman’s appeal.

Still, Florida’s medical cannabis law does not require employers to make any accommodations or alter any workplace drug policies, even for legal, registered medical cannabis patients.

Statute 381.986 of the law places no restrictions on the kind of zero-tolerance drug-free workplace policy Marion County Schools has in place. In fact, the law actually protects employers instead of patients, stating that there can be no “cause of action against an employer for wrongful discharge or discrimination.”

School Board Blames Federal Marijuana Prohibition for Suspension of Veteran Teacher

Marion County School District spokesperson Kevin Christian responded to Hickman’s suspension without pay by pointing to the ongoing federal prohibition against cannabis. “It puts the School District in a very jeopardizing position of losing millions of federal dollars if we allowed this, period,” Christian said.

Yet there has not been a single instance of a state agency losing or being denied federal funding for employing legal medical cannabis patients. But the potential for losing federal funding has been the go-to excuse for school districts across the U.S. when they deny students and staff access to legal medical cannabis or sanction employees for off-the-clock medical cannabis use.

Employers in some states, however, are beginning to change workplace drug policies in the wake of legalized medical or recreational cannabis, such as ending workplace drug testing.

School board fires Brevard teacher for medical marijuana use

The Brevard County School Board voted Tuesday to terminate a teacher for using medical marijuana.

Though medical marijuana has been legalized in Florida, it remains a “schedule 1” narcotic at the federal level, placing it in the same category as heroin, LSD and methamphetamines.

In order to receive certain federal grants, the district said it must be a drug-free workplace. To meet the federal definition, the district can’t allow teachers to use marijuana, School Board General Counsel Paul Gibbs said.

The school district has had a policy since 2019 allowing students to use medical marijuana, the school board did not address the issue for teachers.

Allison Enright, a teacher at Space Coast Junior/Senior High School, disclosed her medical marijuana use when she took a drug test after an injury at work. A student shoved her on a flight of stairs after she corrected him for disobeying directional hallway rules designed to limit face to face contact to slow the spread of COVID-19. Enright said she had no idea her medication violated the district’s policy, which has not been updated since 2003, and says teachers can’t use “illegal drugs,” without specifically mentioning marijuana prescribed by a doctor.

Enright said she takes a pill containing THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, twice a day. Before taking medical marijuana, she said she took opiods and sometimes had to use a wheelchair due to several health conditions causing pain and weakness.

“I want to make it clear: I don’t do drugs,” Enright said, addressing the board during the public comment period. “I don’t smoke pot. I don’t get high. … I love teaching. It’s not just what I do, it’s who I am. I have been at a loss without my students and colleagues. Space Coast high is my family, and I want to go back. Please, let me go back home.”

All board members expressed regret at having to discuss terminating Enright, who had several colleagues testify to her work record at the meeting. However, the board upheld the school district’s recommendation to fire Enright in a 3-2 vote. Board Vice Chair Matt Susin and member Jennifer Jenkins voted against the firing.

“I can’t tell you how unfortunate it is that this happened,” board member Cheryl McDougall said. “I wish we could turn back the clock. But again, I feel like I’m bound to follow (my constitutional duty).”

During the hour-long discussion, Susin and Jenkins proposed multiple motions to try to find an alternative to firing Enright but failed to gain ground with the other board members. Susin first moved to petition the state attorney for guidance.

More: Medical marijuana fired from West Palm Beach city hall job

Jenkins argued that the district should discipline Enright short of termination. Susin agreed; seizing on a provision allowing rehab as a consequence for violating the district’s drug policy, he moved to order Enright to stop taking the medical marijuana and find an alternative treatment plan. Other members expressed concern that doing so would set a precedent that would make it hard to fire teachers for violating the drug policy in the future.

“We can sit there and say that somebody is going to go take this precedent, that the union’s gonna go find all the drug addicted teachers inside the district that are busted … Or we can say, this is our teacher, she’s a darn good teacher, and we’re going to protect her,” Susin said. “And that’s what this is about.”

Susin then moved to stall the teacher’s discipline until the board could update its policy to address medical marijuana, but that motion also failed.

Board Chair Misty Belford said she, too, would like to see the policy updated to prevent this from happening again, but that the board still needed to terminate Enright.

Enright is fired effective Wednesday, but will have a hearing for a review of the decision before the board scheduled within 60 days.

Bailey Gallion is the education reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Gallion at 321-242-3786 or [email protected]

Florida school district fires teacher for medical marijuana use

A Florida school district fired a teacher after learning she had been using medical marijuana prescribed by a doctor.

Allison Enright, who was a teacher at Space Coast Junior/Senior High School, told the school district about the medical marijuana from her doctor after a student pushed her down a flight of stairs and she had to take a drug test, Florida Today reported .

Enright said she did not realize her medical marijuana use was against school policy and that she only takes the pill containing THC due to a health condition.

Brevard County School Board voted 3-2 to terminate Enright’s employment, effective Wednesday.

Although medical marijuana is legal in Florida, the school’s policy still bans the substance as it could risk losing federal grants since marijuana is still illegal federally.

“I want to make it clear: I don’t do drugs,” Enright told the board. “I don’t smoke pot. I don’t get high. … I love teaching. It’s not just what I do, it’s who I am. I have been at a loss without my students and colleagues. Space Coast high is my family, and I want to go back. Please, let me go back home.”

Multiple teachers defended Enright’s record and board members tried to come up with alternative ways to discipline Enright without firing her, but they all fell short, according to Florida Today.

“I can’t tell you how unfortunate it is that this happened,” said board member Cheryl McDougall. “I wish we could turn back the clock. But again, I feel like I’m bound to follow (my constitutional duty).”

Enright will go in front of the board one more time to review the decision.