Princeton University suspended employee for using medical marijuana

Don DeZarn, 48, has worked for Princeton University for 18 years. Before that, he worked for the U.S. Army and Navy, where he acquired Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for which medical marijuana is a recognized treatment. Last week, DeZarn was given an ultimatum by his employer: stop participating in NJ’s medical marijuana program or forfeit his job.

As of yesterday morning, DeZarn, a senior operations manager for the campus’ dining department, says he is suspended with pay. He informed his “supervisors, employee health and human resources representatives” about his marijuana usage. When he advised Public Safety, however, they informed him that there would need to be an investigation. DeZarn went into work on Monday as normal, but says Human Resources told him that he is suspended with pay and then escorted him to his vehicle.

“All I have ever asked for from the University is to be allowed to take my physician prescribed medication just like any other employee.” DeZarn told Monday morning. “I am absolutely NOT interested in any way in seeking any type of legal damages from the University. I do not have an attorney and at this point do not intend to retain one. I just keep hoping this is a bad nightmare and I will wake up and everything will be OK.”

DeZarn comes prepared to fight for his marijuana rights. He’s a long-time marijuana activist, campaigning for office in New Jersey on a legalization platform and even being arrested twice for civil disobedience, though he sticks to the law with his medical use. When New Jersey approved his usage of marijuana under the state’s Compassionate Use Act, DeZarn had to ask a judge for further permission, since drug use would violate his probation. It turns out that Princeton is more restrictive than probation.

DeZarn says that when he was approved for the use of medical marijuana in May, he stopped taking his prescription medications in consultation with his physician. His physician prescribed the high-CBD strain and “assured me I would not be impaired while medicating.”

Even though the strain that DeZarn uses is low in THC, the main hallucinogenic in marijuana, Princeton’s Vice President for Human Resources, Lianne Sullivan-Crowley, has made the University’s position clear.

The law seems to support an employer’s right to maintain a drug-free workplace, including prohibiting the use of marijuana during work hours as well as working while under the influence of marijuana,” Sullivan-Crowley said. []

DeZarn got support from local media and activists over the weekend whom he thanked on his Facebook page. He also updated friends on his plan going forward as of last night.

After seeing the outpouring of support, I have decided that I will return to work at my regular position tomorrow morning and will conduct myself just like any other university employee. When it becomes necessary for me to medicate with a medicine prescribed to me by my licensed physician I will do just that.

I will deal with the consequences, whatever they might be. All I have ever asked for is to be treated just like any other employee. We shall see what tomorrow brings.

It is unclear whether his post had anything to do with today’s suspension or if the suspension was already planned.

Unfortunately, this type of problem is likely to continue with only 8 of the 34 medical marijuana states including protections from discrimination not only in employment, but housing and child custody. A report published by Americans for Safe Access in July explains the employment discrimination issue:

An individual’s status as a medical cannabis patient or a positive test for cannabis metabolites should not be an employer’s sole basis for either a refusal to hire or dismissal of that person. Because of their regular cannabis use, most patients will test positive without being impaired. Medical cannabis use should be treated like any other prescription medication under state law. While some states have explicit protections, many laws are inadequate to provide the necessary safeguards against employment discrimination. [Medical Marijuana Access in the U.S.]

According to the report, if you want job security and medical marijuana at the same time, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New York and Rhode Island have you covered.

New Jersey? Not so much.

This article was originally published by

Published by P. Aiden Hunt

Aiden Hunt is a creative writer and freelance journalist covering marijuana policy and other related issues. He has been published in print and online by outlets such as The Denver Post (The Cannabist),, The Hemp Connoisseur Magazine and Cronic Magazine. He is currently focused on literary creative nonfiction.

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