May 29, 2024

Old businessman employee smoking cigarette at workplace

Medical Cannabis and Those Pesky Workplace Drug Policies

It is clear by any reasonable measurement that medical cannabis is now mainstream in America. As of 2022, more than 3.8 million adults used medical cannabis on a regular basis. No doubt the number has grown since then. This raises an interesting question where work and careers are concerned: how do employers feel about their employees using cannabis?

The issue is one worth exploring given the fact that U.S. employers are not shy about developing workplace drug policies. In fact, most of the jobs I have applied for over the last 30 years have required a drug test prior to hiring.

Workplace drug policies almost certainly have an impact on how secretive people are about medical cannabis consumption. Think about it. If you use medical cannabis despite your employer having a clear policy against it, you likely worry about job security from time to time. Could you be fired for using cannabis medically?

It is a State Thing

There is no universal law we can point to on this topic. Medical cannabis is a state thing. It will remain so until there are changes in federal law. Also remember that state laws vary regardless of the topic. States regulate everything from alcohol to gambling to business licenses in different ways. No two states’ laws are exactly identical.

As far as I know, only a few states with active medical cannabis programs have taken steps to protect both public and private sector employees against discipline based solely on medical cannabis consumption. A few others have enacted protections for public sector workers only. Utah is an example of one such state.

Public Sector Workplace Protections

Utah lawmakers enacted rule changes in 2022 to protect public sector workers against cannabis-related discipline. They apparently modified the rules again during the 2024 legislative session.

The operators of Brigham City’s Beehive Farmacy say the original rule change came about as the result of a case involving a local firefighter. Apparently, the firefighter was found to possess a Utah medical cannabis card. He was threatened with disciplinary action as a result. He took his employer to court and won. But to avoid future problems, lawmakers implemented the 2022 rule.

Under the rule, medical cannabis must be treated like any other prescription medication within the realm of workplace drug policies. That means public sector employers cannot single out medical cannabis users for discipline that users of other prescription medications would not face. Any disciplinary action taken against medical cannabis users must be in accordance with an employer’s existing workplace drug policies as well.

No Protections for the Private Sector

Beehive Farmacy personnel also point out that Utah regulations do not require compliance among private sector employers. Companies in the private sector are allowed to develop and implement workplace drug policies as they see fit. However, they still run the risk of getting into trouble if such policies can be proven discriminatory.

As for why most states do not hold private sector employers to the same standard, it is probably due to the conflict between federal and state law. Workplace discrimination issues can be addressed by the states, but the federal government also has oversight by way of the EOC. States going after private sector employers could rub EOC regulators the wrong way, causing conflict with the feds.

As things currently stand, workplace protections for medical cannabis users have not yet been elevated to the same status as other types of protections. That will probably only change when Washington and the states find a way to reconcile their conflicting laws over medical cannabis legalization and implementation.

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