New protections for employees who are patients with license to use medicinal cannabis

January 17, 2022

Recently, the Governor of Puerto Rico enacted Puerto Rico Law No. 15 of July 29, 2021 (“Law 15-2021”). The purpose of this law is to safeguard the rights of workers who are patients of medical cannabis. The main objective is to protect employees from being penalized for taking advantage of a medical treatment that may be the best or only form of relief available for their respective conditions. In addition, in order to protect public safety and establish a balance between the constitutional rights of patients to their dignity, life and privacy on one hand and the right of the employer to enjoy private property on the other, the law prohibits an employer from discriminating against a medical cannabis patient.

Law 15-2021 details the employment protections for registered and authorized medical cannabis patients. It establishes that being a registered and authorized patient of medical cannabis identified as such with the employer is a protected category for purposes of Puerto Rico employment laws. Thus, no employer may discriminate against that employee for using medical cannabis. Discrimination shall be prohibited whether in the process of recruitment, hiring, appointment, termination, or the imposition of any adverse employment action.

However, as an exception, these protections will not apply to a registered and authorized patient in the following circumstances:

  1. when the use of medical cannabis represents a real threat of harm or danger to people or property;
  2. when the use of medical cannabis interferes with his or her performance and essential job functions;
  3. when the use of medicinal cannabis exposes the employer to the loss of any license, permit or certification related to any federal law, regulation, program or fund.
  4. when the employee ingests or possesses medical cannabis in the workplace and/or during working hours without the employer's written authorization.

Law 15-2021 establishes that its protections shall be liberally interpreted in favor of the registered and authorized patient. It further provides that no employer shall be penalized or denied any contract, license, permit, certification, benefits or funds under the laws of Puerto Rico for the sole reason of employing patients registered and authorized to use medicinal cannabis. In closing, Law 15-2021 orders the Puerto Rico Regulatory Board of Medicinal Cannabis in conjunction with the Puerto Rico Department of Labor and Human Resources to adopt the regulations and administrative measures necessary to achieve the effective implementations of its provisions in a term of ninety (90) days from the date it became effective, July 29, 2021.

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