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Job Seeker Caught In State-Federal Spat Over Medical Marijuana

(CBS) – He smokes medical marijuana to cope with constant pain, which is legal in Illinois. So, why is he being turned down for a job?

CBS 2's Dorothy Tucker reports.

Marijuana eases the pain that Eric Burkam suffers as a result of a fall he took three years ago.

"It's constant, it's every day. It's pounding, dull ache, like a toothache, in your arms," he says.

A daily dose of marijuana also allows him to work -- something he needs and wants.

"I've applied probably in the last four months to at least a couple dozen jobs," Burkam says.

When he finally got an offer in retail sales at the nearby Home Depot, "Needless to say, I was elated," he says.

It didn't last. Two weeks later, when Burkam called to ask when he could start, he learned the company has a "zero tolerance" drug policy, and he had tested positive for marijuana.

"I was devastated because I feel like the system has let me down," he says.

Illinois says Burkam has a legal right to smoke marijuana for medical purposes. He has the card to prove it, but many companies follow federal law, which does not recognize the medical benefits of marijuana – thus, treat it as illegal.

Darlene Vorachek is an employee-rights attorney. She doesn't represent Burkam but believes this is medical discrimination. She says zero tolerance should not apply here.

"His argument is I should be reasonably accommodated because I can do the job," she says.

She anticipates employers relaxing their stances as the use of medical marijuana becomes more prevalent.

That's exactly what Burkam hopes will happen.

"Somebody's got to stand up and wave this flag and say there's something wrong here because why am I being penalized for doing something the state has said I can do?" he says.

A representative from Home Depot says the company adjusted its policy just a few weeks ago, after Burkam applied.

Based on its change, the representative says Burkam can reapply for a job but will not have to take another drug test.


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