How Will Evolving Marijuana Laws Impact the Workplace in 2021?

Marijuana never ceases to attract controversial debates, whether warranted or not. After years of most people not wanting to accept its use, new legislations are now paving the way for its full use. Medical marijuana is a hot topic whenever cannabis is discussed. Several states, including Missouri, have enacted laws legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. For more about medical marijuana laws in Missouri, you can visit your local county office for directions.

Historically, marijuana was placed in the Schedule I class with other substances like heroin and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). These are substances deemed to have a high risk for inducing addictions in users. To this day, marijuana remains in this classification under federal law. However, there’s some potential for progress on the issue of legalization.

With more states considering the legalization of marijuana for medical use, there are increased calls for those at the federal level to consider legislation that would at least make it easier for those seeking medical marijuana. Obviously, the legalization of marijuana (or not) has wider implications beyond the corridors of power. The workplace, for example, will have to face some new realities and make some adjustments regarding marijuana issues.

Marijuana Legalization and Impairment at the Workplace

Many employers would rather not deal with the issue of marijuana at their workplaces. The potential for frivolous lawsuits and all the legal headaches that come with it can make for a stressful workplace environment. 

Unfortunately, there is no sidestepping the issue. Impairment due to ingesting marijuana has the potential to cause drowsiness in employees, leading to poor job performance. Regardless of whether marijuana is consumed for medical or recreational purposes, conflicts can arise due to its use. Even in jurisdictions with legalized marijuana use, employers still have the right to sanction employees whose job performances show deterioration due to marijuana use. As with other substances like alcohol, employers set the rules regarding marijuana consumption at the workplace. Even those using marijuana for medical reasons, the law accommodates such individuals in their use of the substance within reason.

Of course, “within reason” is subjective and can be open to different interpretations to suit one party’s agenda.

Accommodating Employees Within Reason

While the law empowers medical marijuana users to have the substance on their person while at the workplace, employers are equally given some discretion to determine what constitutes “acceptable use” for such products. This leeway applies even in states where recreational marijuana use has been legalized. Needless to say, no employer wants their employees walking around the workplace “stoned,” even medical marijuana users.

However, employers need to come up with workplace rules that do not seem discriminatory against medical marijuana users. For example, if a particular workplace employs medical marijuana users who are required to do sensitive tasks like monitoring crucial data on computer screens, the employer can move such employees to other areas that require less stress. This is because marijuana is known to cause some drowsiness which can lead to concentration lapses. However, if such employees underperform or show repeated tardiness due to their medical marijuana use, the employer has the right to terminate their employment. In such a case, the employer has been reasonable enough while attempting to accommodate the employee’s special need for using marijuana at the workplace.

The above scenario is similar to the accommodation an employer would offer someone with a physical or mental disability.

In a nutshell, having a legal medical marijuana prescription:

i)Does not mean the employee can slack off and do a sloppy job

  1. ii) Does not mean the employee can be intoxicated and impaired during working hours

iii) Does not entitle an employee to jeopardize or compromise the safety of their colleagues

  1. iv) Does not entitle an employee to be late while citing their medical marijuana use as the reason

What Can Employers Do to Find a Middle Ground?

Obviously, the evolving marijuana laws will prompt many employers to revisit their policies regarding substance use at the workplace. This can be a touchy subject, with accusations of discrimination never far away. A key aspect of any such revisions will include the issue of drug testing. This is equally contentious because determining a level of substance use that is deemed “unacceptable” is subjective. In such cases, the employer can seek an independent medical assessment from third parties to reduce the likelihood of accusations of bias. 

This will help to streamline workplace policies regarding medical marijuana use.