Zero-tolerance at Princeton for employee's medical marijuana

A Princeton University employee says he’s been given an ultimatum: Give up his medication or watch his job go up in smoke.

Don DeZarn, a soft-spoken senior operations manager for the university’s dining department, said he was recently prescribed medical marijuana to treat his inflammatory bowel disease and ease symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.  

DeZarn, who served a tour of duty in Iraq as a reservist, said a public safety official at Princeton told him he could not use his medication on campus because it posed "a potential threat" to students.

A spokesman for Princeton, Michael Caddell, declined to comment. "We do not discuss personnel matters," he said.

The U.S. Navy vet said he voluntarily went to university officials last week to let them know about his status as a marijuana patient.

"I just really wanted to give my employer a heads up," DeZarn said in an interview Friday with Philly.com. "I didn't want anything embarrasing to happen, like them thinking I was getting high at work or breaking any laws."

The strain he was prescribed has a very low amount of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

"There's so little THC in it that you could smoke a small tree and it wouldn't get you high," he said. "Most people would consider it garbage weed. But I consider it a miracle drug. It relieves me of my spasms that keep me in pain. But they didn't want to hear any of that."

A  former Libertarian candidate for state Senate who ran on a pro-marijuana platform, DeZarn said the public safety official offered him no sympathy.

"She practically mocked me," DeZarn said. "She said if you want to participate in the program, stay home and get high with your friends."

As a manager of an industrial-sized kitchen, DeZarn said he poses no risk to anyone. 

"It's a supervisory position in a union shop," he said. "I'm not allowed to pick up anything at all. I can't imagine a situation where Id be able to put someone at risk."

DeZarn, who has worked at the university for 18 years. said the state’s Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act doesn’t require employers to permit the use of marijuana at work.

Marijuana activist Chris Goldstein said all users of medical marijuana face a similar quandary. 

"We don’t have workplace-protection policies to prevent people from being fired for being a medical marijuana patient," Goldstein said. "That’s a problem not only in New Jersey but around the country. Legally they can do it. Morally it really sucks. I hope Princeton comes around. "

DeZarn said he will meet with university's department of human resources on Tuesday to ask them to reconsider. 

"In the next three days, I have to make a decision: My livelihood or my health," he said. "I'm pushing 50 years old. I've been in this same business for 30 years. I don't know what else I would do."

This story was updated at 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 29.