An Oregon man recovering from advanced prostate cancer was allegedly fired from his government job for using marijuana in his off-hours.
Michael Hirsch of Eugene, Oregon, has a prescription for medical marijuana, and told Oregon's Register-Guard that he uses the drug to ease headaches and abdominal cramping from the cancer and treatment. Hirsch was fired on Dec. 23 after a co-worker smelled marijuana on his jacket during a training session in November and reported him. He was required to take a drug test and failed.
Hirsch, 60, said he's been financially depleted by the cancer treatments, and told the Register-Guard he worries he'll lose his home if he doesn't get his job back. Hirsch was a senior programmer and systems analyst for Lane County.
“I’m going to end up in a homeless shelter very shortly,” he said. “This is a tragedy compounded on another tragedy.”
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Oregon was one of the first states to approve medical marijuana laws, and was the second state to legalize recreational marijuana after voters approved it with a ballot measure in 2014. Despite that, employers can still discriminate against users and fire employees who test positive, even if they have a prescription for medical use.
In 2011, Hirsch was diagnosed with stage 3 prostate cancer. He told the Register-Guard he's now cancer-free after chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but still gets debilitating side effects from the treatments. He told the newspaper he has a doctor's prescription for medicinal use, and doesn't use the drug during work hours.
A Lane County spokeswoman referred to the county's drug use policy, but did not comment on Hirsch's situation. That policy bars recreational drug use and outlines the county's policies, but also says the policy does not impact cases “where its use is consistent with its prescribed use and does not present a safety hazard or otherwise adversely impact an employee’s performance or county operations.”
Hirsch has the local county union on his side. The union is setting up a fundraiser for him, and a union lawyer is representing him in his efforts to get his job back.
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“It’s outrageous to me that the county did this,” said Jim Steiner, a representative of AFSCME Local 2831. “We have fought the county’s termination decisions before and won, but among the terminations, this one just doesn’t make sense.”