Medical Marijuana and the Drug-Free Workplace: What Business Owners Need to Know

Laws regulating the medical and recreational use of marijuana evolve with nearly every election. As of September 2017, 29 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing marijuana in some form. However, even if you live in a state where medical or recreational use is legalized, marijuana use is still illegal under federal law.

The political landscape of medical marijuana can be confusing for employers and business owners. What do these changing laws mean for business owners? How can employers establish and enforce drug-free workplace policies? In this article, we will help answer both questions.

The Challenge of Changing Attitudes Regarding Marijuana

The combination of conflicting state and federal laws, alongside changing attitudes about marijuana use, can make enforcing a drug-free workplace policy especially challenging. Because of this, many employers may not clearly address medical marijuana use as part of their policies. This is a mistake, however, as leaving your workplace drug policy ambiguous could lead to significant problems.

As an employer, your primary responsibility is to ensure your workplace environment stays safe for your employees, vendors, and customers. That’s why, regardless of whether you live in a state where medical marijuana is legalized, you are not required to accommodate employees working under the influence. This is particularly important for workplaces where employee have sensitive safety roles — such as driving or operating heavy machinery —and could put others at risk. While legal wording varies from state to state, medical marijuana patients must comply with the rules and testing outlined in safety-based employer substance abuse programs.

Is Medical Marijuana an Effective Treatment for Workplace Injuries?

Even though attitudes and laws are undoubtedly shifting, there is still very little evidence to suggest that medical marijuana is a beneficial way to treat workplace injury claims. This is likely due to the nature of workplace injuries, which, according to Liberty Mutual’s regional medical director Dr. Craig Ross, are predominantly musculoskeletal.

Another added hurdle to medical marijuana as a treatment for workplace injuries is the legality of recommending it as a treatment. Since it is still classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic by the DEA, medical doctors can’t prescribe medical marijuana, even if it’s legal in their state of practice. Instead, they can only recommend that a patient seek out a dispensary.

Key Elements of a Drug-Free Workplace Program

If you’re concerned about maintaining safety and addressing the problem of marijuana use in your business, here are a few elements you should include in your drug-free workplace program:

  • A clearly written policy: Make sure you spell out your substance abuse policy, in writing, in no uncertain terms. To cover all of your bases, consult legal expertise to double-check that your policy complies with all laws and regulations — at the local, state, and federal level.
  • Training sessions: Your supervisors need to have a clear understanding of the policies, as well as the procedures, for how to handle an infraction. Host trainings to teach how to recognize signs and symptoms that make a reasonable suspicions test appropriate. They’ll also need to know the steps for fully documenting a problem and handling the confidentiality side of the issue.
  • Education for employees: Additionally, you should host training for employees to ensure they understand your company’s policies and the consequences that could result from breaking them. As an added precaution, you can have employees sign acknowledgement forms.
  • Constant communication: Your drug-free workplace program shouldn’t be something that is only talked about occasionally. By bringing up the policy in safety meetings, newsletters, and signage, you can help raise awareness and make sure everyone stays on the same page.

Remember, above all else, that it’s your job to create an environment that keeps your employees safe at work. For more information, check out our list of eight things business owners can do  to address medical marijuana in the workplace.


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