Drugs at Work. Does Allowing Marijuana Make You a Better Employer?

Jessica Miller-Merrell, blogging4jobs

If your employees are looking to be out of a job in the near future, let them keep on smoking their ‘legal’ joints. There are currently 19 states that have enacted legislation making it legal to use marijuana for medical purposes, which is nearly half of the United States. Does your company currently operate in one of these states? What about in the future? How will you handle medical marijuana in the workplace?

While marijuana has been legalized in across nearly half the United States, Congress still recognizes it in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act that makes it illegal by federal regulations. The U.S. Department of Justice has sent out numerous letters to each state’s legal counsel letting them know that despite passing legislation the federal government still condemns the growing, distributing, and possessing in any capacity. Due to the condemning nature of marijuana in the eyes of the federal government, no state medical marijuana law requires employers to accommodate marijuana use while at work or on duty. However, some state laws do prohibit discrimination based on THC levels.

Federal law always trumps state law. When drafting any type of policy based on medical marijuana, HR professionals need to consider applicable federal laws. The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 is also something that you must take into consideration if your company works under the Department of Transportation or as a federal contractor. Since marijuana isn’t a legal substance under federal law your company can lose the contract or grant given by Federal agencies.

HR professionals have to be cautious and revise policies during these changing times; there will always be a grey area when the issue of medical or legal marijuana arises. Not only do they have to cater to state regulations, but they must keep up with ADA compliance when sanctioning medical marijuana. There are no clear solutions to this problem, but employers should often consider several factors with crafting responses as it relates to marijuana. Here are factors to consider when determining the action you take against those looking to use marijuana for recreation or medical purposes in the workplace:

No Tolerance Policy. Just don’t allow it at all; especially if you are required to be completely drug free under the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988. Just say no for any purposes.

Weigh The Pros and Cons. Is fighting the issue going to be worth it in the long run? The exposure of random drug testing may or may not be worth it if you’re losing employees due to their medical or legal use depending what state your company is operating in.

Document Offenses. If you believe someone is under the influence and it’s affecting his or her job performance, document it. It’s much easier to terminate an employee for working under the influence than it is for a positive test, especially since the laws are grey.  

Tell us your experience.

Do you work in a state where marijuana is legal or for medical use only? Let us know how you handle the situation.


Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR is a workplace and technology strategist specializing in social media. She’s an author who writes at Blogging4Jobs. You can follow her on Twitter @blogging4jobs


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