TALLAHASSEE — In what could be a 1st-of-its-type scenario in Florida, a previous condition correctional officer is inquiring an appeals court to overturn his dismissal for using professional medical cannabis.
Samuel Velez Ortiz, who was a sergeant for the Florida Office of Corrections, was accepted by a physician to use health care cannabis to handle article-traumatic tension dysfunction linked to former military services services, according to files filed in the case. He tested good for cannabis last 12 months for the duration of a random check, finally foremost to his firing below a Office of Corrections “zero tolerance” coverage.
Velez Ortiz took the dispute to the 1st District Court docket of Attraction just after the condition Public Staff Relations Commission upheld the dismissal in January. His attorneys level, in element, to a 2016 condition constitutional amendment that broadly authorized the use of medical marijuana in Florida and say Velez Ortiz did not use the substance though on obligation.
“The section attempts to cloud the key difficulty of this situation by ignoring the reality that appellant (Velez Ortiz) was terminated for getting a legal healthcare marijuana user,” the lawyers wrote in a July temporary. “The department implies that appellant was in search of to use health-related cannabis ‘on web page.’ Nothing at all could be further more from the real truth. The case in advance of this court is not about owning lodging for on-web-site use of clinical cannabis somewhat, it revolves all over the discrimination against appellant for becoming a medical marijuana consumer. A lot more importantly, not once did appellant have or use clinical marijuana though on the department’s premises, through work hours or attended operate less than the impact of healthcare marijuana.”
But lawyers in Lawyer Typical Ashley Moody’s office environment in a temporary this month wrote that the Department of Corrections’ drug-no cost office policy and “procedures applying that plan reveal zero tolerance for worker use of health care cannabis.”
“Velez Ortiz does not dispute that the office may possibly validly prohibit correctional officers from currently being under the affect of cannabis, like healthcare cannabis, whilst on the occupation, no make any difference whether the officer ingested that compound on or off web-site,” the Nov. 16 short said. “Yet the section has no way to distinguish among an officer who is superior on the occupation because he ingested healthcare marijuana from a particular person who ingested the same drug off-web site. The result would be untenable threats to public safety. A correctional officer who reveals up to get the job done substantial or enduring the lingering effects of marijuana — which include lack of concentration and delayed reaction times — might not bring about alarm bells until the worst-situation state of affairs has previously appear to pass.”
The Florida Sheriffs Association filed a buddy-of-the-court brief Monday backing the section, indicating businesses have the authority to enforce drug-free of charge workplace policies.
“Put bluntly, sheriffs and other companies have the obvious authority to terminate an employee who violates their procedures by tests constructive for any marijuana — recreational or medicinal,” the association’s brief stated.
The briefs filed by Velez Ortiz and the sheriffs affiliation describe the dispute as becoming a scenario of “first impression” in Florida — a lawful expression indicating the issues have not been regarded earlier by courts.
Velez Ortiz started functioning for the Department of Corrections in 2013 and experienced been identified by the U.S. Office of Veterans Affairs with combat-connected write-up-traumatic pressure problem, according to the Jan. 11 decision by the General public Employees Relations Fee. He tried using prescription medicines to handle the PTSD, but they had undesired side consequences.
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A health practitioner permitted what is recognised as a “registration card” that permitted Velez Ortiz to invest in medical marijuana underneath the 2016 constitutional amendment and a linked 2017 state legislation. Velez Ortiz and two other Office of Corrections workers examined constructive for marijuana through random tests in May 2021, according to the fee choice.
The two other workers afterwards delivered notes from doctors confirming that they ended up no for a longer period employing healthcare cannabis and remained utilized with the office. But Velez Ortiz offered a take note from his health care provider to “support his continued use of medicinal cannabis,” top to his dismissal, the commission conclusion reported.
Although the briefs do not indicate where Velez Ortiz worked, a July 2021 dismissal letter filed in the scenario was signed by Joseph Edwards, warden of the department’s Reception and Clinical Center in Lake Butler.
A listening to officer in November 2021 advised upholding Velez Ortiz’s dismissal — a advice that was permitted in the final decision by the Public Personnel Relations Commission.
“This situation turns on the point that even although clinical marijuana is authorized beneath Florida regulation, the department has adopted a blanket policy prohibiting any use of cannabis,” the fee choice claimed. “It is not our prerogative to rewrite the department’s drug-absolutely free workplace coverage or concern its wisdom.”
But in their temporary, attorneys for Velez Ortiz wrote that medical marijuana “should be handled just as any other medical drug that calls for a experienced physician to prescribe the use of it, and a ‘qualified patient’ need to not be discriminated towards like any other medical affected person.”
“This court need to find the department’s insurance policies give for an personnel to existing proof of his legal use of the compound that resulted in a optimistic exam and that the definition of prescription and non-prescription drug contains health care marijuana pursuant to Florida statutes,” the brief claimed. “This court docket really should reverse the department’s purchase and need the section to reinstate the petitioner to his prior position with again pay back and all accrued seniority.”
By Jim Saunders, News Services of Florida
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