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Know Your Employment Rights As A Medical Marijuana User

Joe Evans
Joe Evans - Content Writer

Nov 18 2020 - 8 min read

Although medical cannabis is legal in 33 states, the District of Columbia, and three U.S. territories, the laws protecting medical cannabis patients in those same states are far from comprehensive. For medical cannabis patients all around the U.S., that patchwork of laws and regulations can be confusing, obtuse, and downright frustrating.

Understanding your rights when it comes to employment as a medical cannabis patient is vitally important, especially with so many Americans out of and in search of work amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In a time as stressful as now, the need to ease anxiety, PTSD symptoms or ease sleep is only growing for medical cannabis patients everywhere.

In this article, we’re going to break down which states offer protections to workers and which ones don’t, what those protections are, and what medical cannabis patients need to know before their next drug test at work.

Legal Protections for Employees With Medical Cannabis Cards

Of those 33 states, the nation’s capital, and three U.S. territories that have medical cannabis programs, only twelve have passed legislation preventing patients from being discriminated against by their employers.

For example, the state of Nevada is the only state that forces employers to make reasonable accommodations for workers holding medical cannabis cards but doesn’t require those employers to change work conditions based on “reasonable business purposes.”

Pennsylvania, a state whose medical program went into action in 2016, has legislation on the books that prevents employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees based solely on their status as a medical cannabis patient but doesn’t require employers to make any accommodations for their workers.

On the other hand Oregon, one of the first states to decriminalize and legalize cannabis, currently has absolutely no laws on the books protecting cannabis users in terms of employment.

That type of inconsistency is the norm when it comes to medical cannabis worker’s rights, just a state-by-state patchwork quilt of confusing, inconsistent laws, rules and regulations.

Thankfully, here at Leafwell, we like to make things as easy as possible for those with medical marijuana. Whether it’s getting your card in the first place or figuring out what your state’s legal protections are for workers, we’ve got your back.

Medical Marijuana Laws
Medical marijuana state laws.

What Legal Protections are in Place for You?

Here’s a breakdown of each state’s legal protections for medical cannabis patients:

Alaska – Employers are not required to permit or accommodate either medical or recreational cannabis use in the workplace.

Arizona – Employers may not discriminate against medical marijuana users based solely on their status as registered cardholders or for testing positive on a drug test for marijuana, unless it would cause the employer to lose money or licensing benefits under federal law. Employers may fire or take other adverse action against employees who use, possess, or are impaired by medical marijuana on company property or during work hours.

Arkansas – Employers with nine or more employees may not discriminate against applicants or employees based on past or present status as a medical marijuana cardholder or as a designated caregiver for a physically disabled medical marijuana patient. Employers may take adverse action against employees based on a good faith belief that the employee used, possessed, or was impaired by medical marijuana on company property or during work hours. A positive drug test alone is not sufficient grounds for a good faith belief. Employers may, however, exclude employees from safety-sensitive positions based on a positive drug test.

California – Employers are not required to accommodate medical or recreational marijuana use in the workplace. Employers may fire employees who test positive for marijuana, even if the use was off duty and for a medical condition with a valid medical marijuana card.

Colorado – Employers are not required to accommodate medical or recreational marijuana use in the workplace. Employers may fire employees who test positive for marijuana, even for off-duty use with a valid medical marijuana card.

Connecticut – Employers may not discriminate against applicants or employees based on their status as a qualifying patient or primary caregiver of a qualifying patient under medical marijuana laws. Employers may prohibit employees from using marijuana during work hours and discipline employees for being under the influence of marijuana during work hours. Connecticut has decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

Delaware – Employers may not discriminate against medical marijuana users based on their status as registered cardholders or for testing positive for marijuana on a drug test, unless it would cause the employer to lose money or other licensing-related benefits under federal law. Employers may take adverse action against employees who use, possess, or are impaired by marijuana on company property or during work hours.

District of Columbia – Medical marijuana statute does not address employment. Recreational marijuana law does not require employers to allow or accommodate the use or possession of marijuana in the workplace. Employers may enforce policies restricting use of recreational marijuana by employees.

Florida – Employers are not required to accommodate the use of medical marijuana in the workplace or allow an employee to work under the influence of marijuana.

Georgia – Employers are not required to allow or accommodate the use or possession of marijuana in the workplace. Employers may enforce a zero-tolerance drug policy and terminate employees for testing positive for marijuana, even for off-duty use.

Hawaii – Medical marijuana law does not authorize use in the workplace. Note that Hawaii has decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

Illinois – Employers may not discriminate based solely on status as a registered medical marijuana patient or designated caregiver of a medical marijuana patient, unless it would cause the employer to violate federal law or lose money or licensing-related benefits under federal law. Employers may take adverse action based on a good faith belief that the employee used or possessed marijuana on company property or during work hours. Employers may also take adverse action based on a good faith belief that the employee was impaired while working on company property during work hours, but the employee must be given a chance to challenge the basis for the determination.

Maine – Medical marijuana: Employers may not discriminate based on status as a medical marijuana patient or primary caregiver of a medical marijuana patient, unless it would cause the employer to violate federal law or lose a federal contract or funding. Employers are not required to allow employees to smoke marijuana on company premises or allow employees to work under the influence of marijuana.

Recreational marijuana: Employers may not discriminate against applicants or employees based on purely off-duty marijuana use. However, employers are not required to accommodate use or possession of marijuana at the workplace and may discipline employees who are under the influence of marijuana at work.

Massachusetts – Medical marijuana: Employers are not required to accommodate on-site use of medical marijuana at the workplace. However, an employee who uses medical marijuana to treat a disability is entitled to reasonable accommodation under the state disability discrimination law. Under that law, employers with 6 or more employees must accommodate off-site, off-duty use, unless there is an equally effective alternative treatment available or it would cause the employer undue hardship.

Recreational marijuana: Employers are not required to accommodate recreational marijuana use in the workplace. Employers may enforce workplace policies restricting marijuana consumption by employees.

Michigan – Employers are not required to accommodate marijuana use at the workplace or allow an employee to work under the influence of marijuana. Employers may fire employees for testing positive for marijuana on a drug test, even when the use was off duty and the employee had a valid medical marijuana card.

Minnesota – Employers may not discriminate against applicants or employees based on status as a registered medical marijuana patient or for testing positive for marijuana on a drug test, unless it would cause the employer to violate federal law or lose money or licensing-related benefits under federal law. Employers may take adverse action against an employee who uses, possesses, or is impaired by marijuana on company property or during work hours.

Montana – Employers are not required to accommodate the use of medical marijuana by a registered cardholder. As part of an employment contract, employers may include a provision prohibiting an employee’s use of medical marijuana.

Nevada – Medical marijuana: Employers are not required to allow use of medical marijuana in the workplace. However, employers must try to make reasonable accommodations for registered medical marijuana patients, as long as it would not pose a safety threat to people or property, cause an undue hardship, or prevent the employee from fulfilling his or her job responsibilities.

Recreational marijuana: Employers may enforce a workplace policy prohibiting or restricting use of recreational marijuana by employees.

New Hampshire – Employers are not required to accommodate use of medical marijuana on company property. Employers may discipline employees for using marijuana in the workplace or for working while under the influence of marijuana.

New Jersey – Employers are not required to accommodate use of medical marijuana in the workplace.

New Mexico – Employers may fire or discipline medical marijuana users based on a positive drug test.

New York – Employers may not discriminate against applicants or employees based on status as a medical marijuana patient, but they may enforce a policy that prohibits employees from working while impaired by marijuana. Employers with four or more employees must also provide reasonable accommodations to medical marijuana users. Employers are not required to take any action that would cause them to violate federal law or lose a federal contract or funding.

North Dakota –  Employers may discipline employees for possessing or using marijuana in the workplace or for working while under the influence of marijuana.

Ohio – Employers are not required to accommodate an employee’s use or possession of medical marijuana. Employers may enforce zero-tolerance drug policies and discipline, fire, or refuse to hire medical marijuana users.

Oklahoma – Employers may not discriminate against employees or applicants because they possess a medical marijuana license or solely because they have tested positive for marijuana. Employers may prohibit marijuana use, possession, or impairment in the workplace, including for those with valid medical marijuana licenses.

Oregon – Medical marijuana: Employers are not required to accommodate the use of medical marijuana in the workplace. Employers may fire or discipline employees for testing positive for marijuana, even if the use was off duty and with a valid medical marijuana card.

Recreational marijuana: The law does not impose any restrictions on employers.

Pennsylvania – Employers may not discriminate based on status as a medical marijuana patient. Employers may discipline employees for being under the influence of marijuana at the workplace, or for working while under the influence of medical marijuana, but only when the employee’s conduct falls below the normally accepted standard of care for that job. Employers are not required to accommodate medical marijuana use on company property and may prohibit employees from performing any duty that would pose a health or safety risk. Employers are not required to take any action that would violate federal law.

Rhode Island – Employers are not required to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in the workplace. However, employers may not refuse to hire or otherwise penalize a person based solely upon the person’s status as a medical marijuana patient or for testing positive for marijuana on a drug test.

Vermont – Employers are not required to accommodate, and may regulate or prohibit, use or possession of marijuana in the workplace.

Washington – Medical marijuana: Employers may establish a drug-free workplace policy, in which case no accommodation for medical marijuana use is required. Employers may refuse to hire applicants or fire employees for testing positive for marijuana on a drug test, even if the use was off duty.

Recreational marijuana: The law does not address employment.

West Virginia – Employers may not discriminate against employees based solely on their status as certified to use medical marijuana. Employers may discipline an employee for falling below the normally accepted standard of care while under the influence of medical marijuana. Employers may also prohibit employees from performing any duty that would be life-threatening, or that would pose a public health or safety risk, while under the influence of marijuana. Employers are not required to take any action that would violate federal law.

How Could This Patchwork Be Fixed?

If  you’re thinking all of that sounds convoluted and complicated, you’re right. Thankfully there’s an easy fix for all of these issues. Making cannabis federally legal would allow for every state to unify their laws, rules and regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The only way for that to happen, however, is for activists, medical cannabis patients and lawmakers to keep pushing forward. With nearly 70 percent of Americans in support of legal cannabis nationwide, it seems like only a matter of time before cannabis patients can stop worrying about outdated, prohibition-era rules regarding cannabis and just use their medicine without fear of repercussions at the workplace!

Written by
Joe Evans
Joe Evans - Content Writer

Joe Evans is a journalist, writer, editor and contributor for Leafwell. He has, to date, more than 5,000 articles published online under his byline on topics like cannabis, local and National news, politics, automotive news, sports, pop culture and even a cult.

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