Managing Medical Marijuana in the Workplace

June 21 2018 | by Kristi Weierbach, Ph.D., SPHR, SHRM-SCP, FPC

Recently I attended my state’s Annual Workers Compensation Conference, where Medical Marijuana was a dominant topic of conversation (in addition to the Opioid Crisis), and it was fascinating to hear both the Medical and Legal perspectives. During the conference, I was stunned to find that when new legislation is passed, employers are often left in the dark on how to implement new and/or update existing policies and procedures that align with the new regulations. It takes years of court cases to help shape employer policies, and unfortunately, it may be several years until we have a solid understanding of how employers should navigate this delicate topic.

Based on the information I gathered, I want to share some insights and interpretations to help companies who have felt or soon will feel the impact of legalized medical marijuana.

How Does this Whole Thing Work?

Even though medical marijuana is legal in 30 states and the District of Columbia, there are still many questions surrounding its applicability. Let’s walk through some of the top ones.

Q: Why is Medical Marijuana prescribed?

A: Generally, marijuana is only prescribed to those individuals who are suffering from a serious medical condition such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease, etc. It is not a cure, but rather a method for alleviating pain and helping to improve quality of life.

Q: How is Medical Marijuana prescribed?

A: While cannabis prescriptions may vary from state to state, in general, an approved practitioner must confirm that a patient suffers from one of the approved serious medical conditions, and certify that Medical Marijuana can benefit the patient. Upon approval, the individual or patient will be issued a Medical Marijuana card.

Q: How do I know if someone has been approved for Medical Marijuana?

A: The only way you will learn if someone has been approved and issued a Medical Marijuana ID card is if he/she tells you. No mandate states that an approved patient must/should report the prescription to their employer.

Q: Does my company need to accommodate an employee who has received a Medical Marijuana prescription?

A: No. At this time companies do not have to accommodate an individual who has been prescribed Medical Marijuana, but you also cannot discriminate against someone who has been issued a Medical Marijuana ID card. The reason is that it is governed at the state level and is still not legalized at the Federal level.

Q: Do I have to change my pre-hire drug screen process and/or policies?

A: Yes. A company should determine what, if any, positions/roles in the company can be performed by someone who may be authorized to use Medical Marijuana. Companies may take a firm footing and not hire anyone who tests positive for Medical Marijuana, especially if it’s in an industry where employees operate heavy equipment or machinery.

Employers should have a policy in place and apply consistently, so there is no question as to whether or not an employee is being treated more favorably than another. If the company allows the use of Medical Marijuana, then it is critical during the pre-hire, or random post-hire drug screening to require all who test positive for marijuana to show their Medical Marijuana ID Card. Failure to provide the Medical Marijuana ID card is a good indicator that other non-medical forms of marijuana are in use, which may still be illegal in your state. Currently, nine (9) states and the District of Columbia have made both medical and recreational use of marijuana legal.

Q: Are there any negative implications of allowing someone to continue to work who is under the recommended treatment of Medical Marijuana?

A: Possibly. It’s important to examine each role in the company to determine if there is an elevated risk of injury with the use of Medical Marijuana. It also may be beneficial to obtain guidance from your Business Insurance/Workers Comp insurance provider.

Caution: Disruption Ahead!

It wasn’t long ago that talking about cannabis in the workplace would have seemed like a crazy idea. Today, it’s clear that workforce disruption will continue to occur and present challenges that we never thought we would face. Staying informed and diligent is critical for a business who wants to be future-ready. Let me know how you are tackling disruption in your workplace, are there areas you would like to see addressed in an upcoming blog or webinar? Connect with me and let me know!

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