Clark County school board may ease strict prohibition on employee marijuana use
The Clark County School District board is considering changing its ban on employee marijuana use in light of cannabis legalization in Nevada.
Some school board members are calling to change policy language that does not completely match recent changes in state law permitting the use of marijuana for people 21 years or older. Members also addressed concerns about those using marijuana medicinally.
“We need to have some consistency. We need to have some clarification because of the changes as far as federal and state law,” Board of Trustees Vice President Linda Cavazos said during a work session meeting on Wednesday.
Members reviewed a presentation about CCSD regulations, state law and federal law regarding marijuana, although the board took no formal action. While state law permits use of marijuana, it prohibits any person from having marijuana within school buildings.
“If it’s legal outside, it’s none of our business,” said Jon Okazaki, associate general counsel for the school district. “It is only our business if it comes into work and it negatively affects their ability to do their work.”
Despite being legalized in 11 states, marijuana continues to be classified as an illegal drug under federal law. CCSD regulations mandate that use of illegal drugs be grounds for dismissal.
“Even though they can use it without being criminally prosecuted by Nevada, it doesn’t mean it’s a legal drug they can use or that we have to tolerate,” said Okazaki.
He said even if a person exhibits no negative performance or impairment at work, the minute the board finds out one of their employees is using marijuana, they have to discipline them.
“So, we have a teacher and staff shortage here, but we are also getting rid of our staff if they have a medical marijuana card and they don’t pass a drug test?” asked board member Danielle Ford.
“Our current policies and [regulations] say it’s an illicit drug,” Okazaki said.
The discipline for marijuana use is the same as for cocaine or heroin use. Standard discipline is dismissal, but in many marijuana-use cases, Okazaki said parties usually either settle or resign.
This includes employees who have a medical marijuana license card, since a card granted by a doctor does not federally legalize the substance.
“Under our current policy, when we find out about that, we discipline to be consistent,” said Okazaki.
He said they are averaging between 15 to 20 discipline cases per year for staff that use medical marijuana, with four or five resulting in resignations. About three-fourths of those cases involve support staff such as bus drivers and custodians rather than licensed staff such as teachers and administrators.
“I think it’s horrific,” Cavazos said, adding that she knows three talented veterans unwilling to apply for a job through the Clark County School District because they do not want to be tested for drugs.
“There’s just a long road of very disheartening dominoes,” she said.
Cavazos explained that the men she knows have been weaned off of opioids and are using marijuana on a very limited basis for their pain and for their PTSD.
“If they have happen to be tested, there goes the job,” she said. “Then there’s other complications that have to do with the VA and their medical benefits.”
One of the members was more hesitant about the subject.
“I’m probably not as willing to jump on board with ‘Hey, it’s cool. Go smoke a doob at lunch, and teach our kids,’” said trustee Chris Garvey. “This is very murky waters. I understand the law. I understand the medical issues with marijuana … The problem is that I don’t think there’s any definitive testing out there that even discerns between CBD and marijuana.”
Garvey brought up concerns of employees smelling like marijuana, affecting the workplace, or posting about their marijuana use on social media sites that students can access.
“I think there is a gray area here, especially with state statutes,” Garvey said.
Trustee Linda Young suggested that board members sit down and analyze the best way to move forward.
“We have to look at the policy. We have to look at something in writing,” she said.
Superintendent Jesus Jara suggested that board members go back and update their policy to mirror school districts in states that have legalized marijuana, such as L.A. Unified School District and Denver Public Schools. These school districts do not discipline their employees for off-duty use of marijuana unless it adversely influences their ability at work or they do it at work.
“This is about people and I think we need to always remember that,” Cavazos said. “We do not want our children to be in danger by someone who is impaired, but we also don’t want to lose valuable people that basically feel they can’t function in that type of environment.”