CHICAGO (CBS) — Illinois legalized medical marijuana, but employers can still fire employees who fail a drug test. Nick Torraco chose medical marijuana over his job and hopes taking a stand will change company policies.

An Air Force veteran and former active duty national guardsman, Torraco is currently with the reserves as a firefighter, and now he’s one of more than 40,000 people who can buy and use medical marijuana legally in the state of Illinois.

“Marijuana just helps with everything,” he said.

He just got his provisional registration card.

“PTSD, depression, anxiety. I get headaches a lot,” he said.

And like so many others, Torraco has a difficult choice to make — to use marijuana or stay employed.

He said he’s choosing medical marijuana.

“It’s pretty much a life saver,” he said. “The job was so rewarding, but my life means more. And my health. And knowing I’m more capable now.”

This doesn’t just pertain to federal or public safety employees. Illinois’ Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act prevents employers from discriminating against a marijuana patient, but they can still drug test and maintain zero-tolerance and drug-free workplace policies, ultimately leaving it up to an employer’s discretion even if the effects of a high are long gone.

They’re policies Torraco hopes will start to change with what the state law is calling medicine for more and more residents.

“If employers are ok with their employees coming in with six different pills to handle all their issues, that maybe make them feel differently then that’s ok, but they should also then be open to their employees smoking marijuana,” Torraco said.

An attorney who specializes in these issues told CBS 2 that because federally marijuana is still considered an illegal substance the dilemma isn’t going anywhere, even if recreational marijuana is legalized in Illinois, which is something lawmakers are considering.

 

Tara Molina