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Timothy A. Dimoff

Medical marijuana is now legal in many states and many other states are considering legalizing it. This creates a host of issues and questions, legal and otherwise, that employers must address. This also affects workplace issues and policies. And since each state is different, how do you know how your state laws vs. federal laws affect the issue? It is confusing but this is an area where it is critically important to understand and to act accordingly.

The Federal government has classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug putting it in the same category as heroin. However, many states have legalized it for medical uses. And to make it even more confusing, employers can fire or refuse to hire employees for using medical marijuana. This can be done without going against the Americans with Disabilities Act or any other federal anti-discrimination statue. So, as an employer how do you know what to do regarding your company policy, your rights as to hiring and firing for employee use, and your legal rights so you don't get sued? The first and most important step is to develop a strong policy covering these issues. Your HR department as well as your legal team should be involved in the development of your policies.

As a former narcotics officer and a security and HR expert for over 40 years, here are my suggestions for the important things to consider when developing a medical marijuana policy:

  • Know your state laws. Does your state allow you to fire someone for using medical marijuana? Some states allow employers to fire employees for using the drug and some states do not. Most states have some protections to protect legitimate patients from criminal prosecution but not from workplace issues. If as an employer, you have a zero-tolerance policy, should you change your policy or should you terminate an employee who uses medical marijuana?
  • Re-evaluate your current polices making sure to be very specific about how your company deals with medical marijuana in your workplace. Clearly state our policies on hiring, firing, use on the job, promotions, etc. Make sure every employee receives a copy of the new policy and have them sign a document stating that they received a copy.
  • Provide training and education about your company's drug policy. Make sure all job applicants are told about your company's policy on medical marijuana before they are hired.
  • Laws and court rulings change all the time. Your HR department as well as your legal team need to stay apprised of any changes both on a state and a federal level. If there are changes, be sure to understand how those changes can affect your company, your policies and your employees, and take necessary steps to update everyone.
  • Decide how you will handle safety vs. non-safety issues. Will you have a stricter policy if the employee position is safety-related as opposed to a non-safety related position? Will you require medical documentation of the reason for any use?
  • You will also need to address the issues of a type of medical marijuana in pill form called "Marinol" which is a Schedule III medicine. Marinol is verifiable, legal and prescribed. Anyone on medical marijuana can be prescribed Marinol which has a verifiable medical explanation for any positive test. The same issues and steps should be taken regarding the use of Marinol as for medical marijuana.

Protecting your workplace, employees and clients is the most important issue. Medical marijuana is a legal and necessary protocol for many who suffer from various issues. While there is no single right answer for you, the most important thing is to maintain safety for everyone. Creating a solid workplace policy on this issue is the first step to achieving this goal.

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Timothy A. Dimoff is President of SACS Consulting, Inc., a high-risk security consulting firm headquartered in Akron, Ohio. He is a nationally renowned speaker, author, consultant and trainer. His latest book is Life Rage an incisive and illuminating examination of the "rages" prevalent in American society today.

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