When a struggle broke out amongst college students at Belleview Excessive College in central Florida, college official Mike Hickman entered the fray and put his physique on the road to intervene. Nothing within the college’s administrative code tasked him with risking himself to safe his college students’ security, however he did so anyway.
A college official’s good deed didn’t go unpunished: He was fired after stepping in to cease a schoolyard struggle.
A Marine fight veteran who suffered critical accidents whereas serving within the 1990-1991 Gulf Warfare, Hickman has spent the previous thirty years dwelling with power ache from these wounds—and from a string of surgical procedures he underwent to heal them. For a time he relied on prescribed opioids for aid, however then discovered hashish labored much better. He might acquire aid with out the intense unintended effects—and threat of dependancy and overdose—that got here with opioid use.
Hickman carried out his job at Belleview—the place he labored as the college’s pupil providers supervisor—admirably, for years, whereas privately managing his medical situation.
Then got here the schoolyard struggle.
Punished for his good deed
It occurred a 12 months in the past, in Nov. 2019.
Whereas breaking apart the brawl, Hickman suffered a brand new damage—one critical sufficient to require a go to to a employee’s compensation physician. Appearing on behalf of his employer, that physician required him to submit a urine pattern. The pattern wasn’t a part of Hickman’s therapy. Its solely goal was to check for drug use.
When the urine check got here again optimistic for THC, Hickman’s 10 years of service to Marion County Public Faculties ended. The Marion County College Board fired Mike Hickman, pointing to district coverage prohibiting workers from utilizing hashish for any purpose, even when that use takes place off college grounds and on the suggestion of a doctor.
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District officers provided to restrict his punishment to a suspension if Hickman ended his use of medical hashish. Pressured to decide on between his profession as an educator and the drugs that secures his high quality of life, Hickman selected his medication.
Mike Hickman’s treatment is authorized in keeping with state legislation. But it surely’s in opposition to college district coverage.
Medical hashish has been authorized in Florida since 2016, when 71% of voters permitted a state constitutional modification permitting medical doctors to suggest it to their sufferers. And in keeping with a 2019 article from MJ Biz Day by day, enterprise is now “booming, with a mean of almost two dispensaries opening every week throughout the state.”
There’s no disputing the legality of Mike Hickman’s hashish use below state legislation. Nor does anybody allege that he got here to work impaired, or that he failed in any approach to carry out his official duties with the utmost ability and professionalism.
However after months of hearings and authorized wrangling, none of that mattered. On Nov. 4, the Marion Public College Board voted 5-0 to terminate his employment.
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What in regards to the kids?
Hickman has declined to debate the case publicly. Shortly after the college board’s Nov. 4 determination, Hickman’s legal professional, Mark Herdman, told a local reporter the motion “was simply one other unlucky determination handed down by the Marion County College Board to fireplace yet one more good worker.”
However to lose your employment, together with your house within the lives of numerous younger individuals who look as much as you as an educator, a mentor, and a pillar of the neighborhood, goes far past a easy job loss. Seeing somebody who served his nation with honor, and was wounded within the subject of battle, be sacked for selecting a secure, efficient medication exposes a horrible hypocrisy on the coronary heart of the Warfare on Medicine.
For many years, America’s weed warriors have justified their damaging prohibition in opposition to a useful plant by interesting to the destiny of “the youngsters.” What message, they ask, would it not ship to permit a fight veteran to smoke a joint or use a hashish salve within the privateness of his own residence as an alternative of popping harmful, addictive capsules?
The true query is what lesson will Mike Hickman’s college students study from a society that publicly shames and summarily dismisses an upstanding citizen for one thing that must be no person’s enterprise however his personal.
A hashish Catch-22
Contacted by Leafly, a number of college board members directed inquiries to Kevin Christian, the district’s head of public relations.
District officers scrambled to discover a approach to justify Hickman’s firing. At difficulty is a long-outdated zero-tolerance coverage for a medicine that’s now authorized.
At first Christian tried to border the problem as Hickman’s failure to reveal his use of medical hashish to highschool authorities previous to failing his drug check—“that’s actually a giant portion of what the college board expressed concern over”—although he finally conceded that nothing within the college board’s coverage would have prevented Hickman from being fired on the spot for merely making such a disclosure.
The truth is, that policy particularly lists marijuana amongst prohibited substances, without any consideration of whether or not it’s authorized below state legislation. This zero-tolerance strategy to sustaining a “drug free office” has remained unaltered for many years. The varsity board did not replace the district’s insurance policies in any method following the legalization of medical hashish in Florida 4 years in the past.
College board hiding behind federal legislation
Even now, the college board says the truth that hashish stays federally unlawful prevents them for making any additional allowances, since public colleges obtain federally funding that might theoretically be minimize off if they allow even a single exception.
Again in 2019, a committee within the US Home of Representatives directed the Workplace of Personnel Administration to review policies surrounding the hiring and firing of federal workers in states with authorized hashish, writing:
The Committee encourages OPM to evaluate its insurance policies and tips relating to hiring and firing of people who use marijuana in states the place that particular person’s non-public use of marijuana will not be prohibited below the legislation of the State. These insurance policies ought to replicate up to date modifications to the legislation on marijuana utilization and clearly state the impression of marijuana utilization on Federal employment.
However up to now, no such motion has been taken on the federal stage.
In the meantime in Florida, a bill “prohibiting an employer from taking antagonistic personnel motion in opposition to an worker or job applicant who’s a certified affected person utilizing medical marijuana” was launched in early 2020, however died in committee.
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The following worker could ignore the struggle
The Marion County College Board voted unanimously to terminate him regardless of overwhelming assist for Hickman from college students, school, dad and mom, and the Marion Schooling Affiliation, an area academics union.
“Think about if this worker simply sat again and let the 2 college students proceed to struggle with out regard for his or her security,” Chris Altobello, Marion Schooling Affiliation govt director, told the Ocala Star-Banner newspaper after Hickman’s firing. “We wouldn’t be right here proper now.”
Hickman, Altobello added, was no extra impaired “than somebody who took an aspirin for a headache. They implied that that is tantamount to smoking pot within the boys rest room!”
Lazy coverage leads to man’s firing
Finally a evaluate course of landed the case earlier than Decide Suzanne Van Wyk of the state Division of Administrative Hearings in Tallahassee. Wyk upheld Hickman’s firing, although not with out reservations.
In an eight-page determination, Van Wyk famous Hickman’s argument that it’s unfair to punish somebody for utilizing authorized medical hashish when the college board wouldn’t object to him “instructing below the affect of opioid ache drugs, which he took for years previous to the supply of medical marijuana.”
Nonetheless, the very best deal provided to Hickman was to cease utilizing hashish and return to work after a 20-day suspension. Or, put one other method: Preserve struggling in ache; or take harmful, addictive capsules; or lose your job.
Mike Hickman selected his well being and misplaced his job.
That’s a selection no person ought to ever face.