Princeton University employee put on leave over medical marijuana

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     (Ross D. Franklin/AP File Photo)

    (Ross D. Franklin/AP File Photo)

    A Princeton University employee who wants to use medical marijuana to treat his inflammatory bowel disease has been put on paid leave.

    Campus dining manager Don DeZarn, who has inflammatory bowel disease and PTSD, said medical marijuana has helped with both conditions.

    While on vacation this summer, he began using a new strain recommended by his doctor. It has lower amounts of THC — the compound that creates a high — and more of the compounds that he finds help him.

    “I wasn’t impaired at all; I actually felt better,” he said. “I quit taking all the pharmaceuticals, and I had decided that’s what I was going to do. I just wanted to make sure everything was OK with my employer.”

    The dispute arose after he informed the university’s public safety department that he might use the drug while at work on campus. DeZarn said officials posed a hypothetical scenario in which he might accidentally give a student with a food allergy the wrong item after using marijuana.

    New Jersey’s medical marijuana law, like that of most states, says employers do not need to accommodate marijuana use in the workplace. Roseanne Scotti, state director of New Jersey’s Drug Policy Alliance, said that creates a possibility for discrimination.

    “You couldn’t terminate someone if they needed to take anxiety medication or if they were being treated with chemotherapy with cancer,” she said. “Why should he be in a position — or why should anyone be in a position — just because they’re using medical marijuana to automatically be in danger of losing their job?”

    DeZarn, who said he loves his job, is looking forward to the end of the dispute.

    “I’m really hoping this is just a misunderstanding on their part,” he said. “They seem to be pretty open minded and forward thinking on most things. I would hope if somebody in a position of authority would take a look at what I have and the documentation, they’ll let me come back to work — soon.”

    After a meeting on Tuesday, Princeton University spokesman Martin Mbugua said both parties are in the process of coming to a reasonable accommodation. Until then, DeZarn will remain on paid leave.

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