Medical Marijuana at Work: Where Is the Line Drawn?

States, including Maryland, have moved to legalize medically-recommended marijuana – but frequently without altering workplace laws. Courts may be moving in the employees’ direction.

cannabis-1458000_960_720Medical cannabis has been approved in more than 30 states, but most of them have not made accompanying changes to workplace protections. Can an employee, using marijuana in compliance with that state’s process for legal purchase and use, be disciplined or terminated for showing signs on the job? Is the need to use marijuana as a medical treatment the same as a medical disability, requiring an employer to accommodate it? The lack of a clear “current effect” test complicates this substantially – and makes enforcement different from the obvious parallel of a legal impairment, alcohol.

Governing magazine offers an interesting roundup on this issue. From their article:

Despite the widespread legalization of medical cannabis, there are a number of reasons employers pause when it comes to having people who use it on their staff. Some aren’t fully aware of their state’s protections, and others might fear losing out on federal funding. “A lot of people are concerned about whether marijuana users will be less productive [at] work or if there will be more workplace accidents,” says Karen O’Keefe, state policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

But unlike many other drugs, THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, can be detected for 30 days or longer after use, so workplace drug tests don’t necessarily portray a person’s current level of impairment. As medical marijuana becomes less taboo, more employers will likely change their drug policies. Already, fewer employers — particularly those facing staff shortages — are requesting preemployment tests for marijuana.

In recent years, legislative proposals to clarify this murky areas have failed in the Maryland general Assembly, leaving the matter somewhat unclear here, along with other states referenced directly in the article. MACo has opposed certain bills, citing concerns about classes of “sensitive employees” and their necessary public accountability. See Conduit Street‘s session-end wrap-up on employment issues from 2019 for more details.

Read the full article on the Governing website.

Visit the Marijuana Policy Project website for more information about employment law proposals being advocated.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties
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