Widespread Marijuana Legalization Changes Workplace Policies and Practices

The last few years have been marked by rapid changes in terms of marijuana legalization across the country. Medical marijuana is now authorized in 23 states and Washington DC, and four states have legalized recreational use: Colorado, Washington state, Alaska, and Oregon — and it seems as though Ohio might be next in line to join them. But what do these new laws mean for the workplace?

legal marijuana

(Photo Credit: eggrole/Flickr)

As legalization spreads, in a variety of forms, managers and workers are facing some tough questions about how the new laws impact policies and practices. Let’s take a look at how marijuana legalization is being handled in the workplace. First, here are a couple of things you should know.

Be sure you know your state’s laws.

Regardless of your own personal feelings about marijuana, It’s important to stay current on the state of the drug laws in your area, as well as your company’s individual policies on drug use — especially if you’re a manager. Keeping up to date with policies, whether you agree with them or not, is a crucial first step to understanding the way the changes impact your company and your team.

Know that this is something the legal system is working through.

Because the changes are coming so rapidly, everyone is working hard to keep up. Law schools are now offering courses on tackling the litigation that’s sure to arise. The legal issues surrounding this are tricky and complicated. But, the system is adjusting and learning more about how to tackle the issues that are sure to pop up in the future.

The legalization of marijuana in some states, either for medical or recreational use, has changed the way companies handle information and conversations surrounding the substance with employees. It’s important to understand these shifts, and also to tread carefully. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Conversations about marijuana are tricky.

While companies do have a responsibility to accommodate worker’s medical conditions, they don’t have to tolerate marijuana in the workplace. Given where we are with legalization, it might feel like speaking with an employer about a medical condition that is treated with medical marijuana would be just fine, but it still opens up doors that could lead to trouble, so do so carefully.

However, the big idea here is that companies do have to support employee’s treatments of medical conditions, and telling an employee that marijuana is a no-no when they have a medical condition could lead to a lawsuit. Still, be careful and smart when having these kinds of conversations, either as an employee or a manager. If you are using marijuana legally, you aren’t doing anything wrong – but that doesn’t mean it’s a great professional decision to shout it from the rooftops.

You still can’t use marijuana at work.

If you’re using marijuana legally, even to treat a serious medical condition, it still isn’t okay in most companies to actually use the substance while at work. Most organizations still have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to using marijuana at work. However, if you live in a state that mandates that employers accommodate workers’ use of medical marijuana, (Arizona, Delaware, and Minnesota), an employee with a medical card cannot be fired for testing positive for the substance. The workplace is still marijuana-free, but what employees do during their personal time is their business.

Be careful with social media.

Although an employee cannot be fired, or denied a position, because of known, legal, medical marijuana usage, it’s still best to avoid posting about your use on social media, for now. While it might be possible to bring litigation against an employer who denies employment due to a disability — for example, if you’re fired for announcing on social media that you are legally treating your glaucoma with marijuana — who wants to wade through that kind of scenario if you don’t have to? Although medical marijuana is gaining widespread acceptance, it still makes sense to exercise caution when posting about the topic on social media.

Sweeping, rapid changes are occurring across the country when it comes to the legalization of marijuana. As time passes, workplace practices and policies will continue to shift and adjust. However, for now, it makes sense to limit use of the substance to your personal time, and maybe avoid drawing a ton of attention to your practices and beliefs at work. It will be interesting to see how these changes are processed in the years to come.

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