Key Takeaways

  • Expanding legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes creates a significant challenge for workplaces where physical impairment may lead to mishaps and injuries.

  • While medicinal use of marijuana in federal workplaces is still restricted, states legalizing medical marijuana leave nonfederal workplaces to figure out how to accommodate these changes and still protect their workforce.

  • Organizations must decide how to address medical marijuana use while promoting a safe and healthful work environment, and not reconciling the legalization, permitted use and lawful drug testing.

  • This article explores some of the challenges and possible approaches for meeting this evolving workplace dilemma.

The increasing legalization of medical marijuana use presents a greater risk in the workplace. It presents organizational challenges to maintaining productivity, protecting equipment and property, and preserving employee safety and health. Historically, organizations developed anti-drug use policies and randomly drug tested employees to determine potential impairment at work; however, this strategy must evolve as the use of medical marijuana grows. While medical marijuana is legal, employers may not know if employees are impaired at work. This is a growing problem as several states have already legalized medical marijuana use (see the "Marijuana Legalization Status" sidebar), public support for marijuana legalization rises and many other states continue to consider bills on varying levels of reform (Ingraham, 2017; NCSL, 2018).

With the expansion of medical marijuana reform, previous workplace policies may potentially violate employee rights. While federal law still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (i.e., drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse) (U.S. DEA, 2018), U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) deferred enforcement to each state in 2013 (J.M. Cole, personal communication, Aug. 29, 2013; U.S. DOJ, 2013). Organizations must be wary of state laws regarding marijuana use and understand how the use can affect workplace safety and health, all while clarifying both employer and employee rights through the lawful execution of workplace drug policies.

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