Burning Questions: Medical Marijuana and the Workplace

Confused by the question of where we stand when it comes to the topic of medical marijuana at work? Trust us: You’re not alone. Even though marijuana is well-established here in Washington State, when it comes to what’s okay and what’s not at your job, there’s not a great deal of guidance.

We hope that changes soon, and one thing you can do to help is to let your representatives know how you feel. But in the meantime, we’ll share what we know about the sticky question of using medical marijuana at work.

Medical Marijuana at Work: Where We Stand

Washington—like many other states—doesn’t offer a great deal of clarity in terms of how the use of medical marijuana at work is treated. Even though marijuana has been recognized as having medical usefulness here since 1979, it’s illegal to consume marijuana “in public” (which technically means “in view of the public”).

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So…does that mean it’s okay to use medical marijuana discreetly, like in the form of tinctures or edibles? That really depends on your employer. Many companies maintain policies prohibiting employees from using or being under the influence of cannabis at work. If your workplace is sufficiently informal—and especially if you’re using low-dose, low-THC cannabis products—it may never be an issue.

Unfortunately, some workplaces are not informal, meaning they institute mandatory drug testing. What are your rights then?

Medical Marijuana at Work: Know Your Rights

It’s perfectly legal for employers to institute mandatory drug testing as a condition of employment. In one case that reached the Washington Supreme Court, a woman unsuccessfully appealed having a job offer rescinded after she tested positive for the medical marijuana she was legally authorized to use.

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In general, the bar for screening such job applicants is lower than for current employees. So long as all applicants are screened, a prospective employer can require a drug test as part of the application process. When it comes to employees already under contract, companies are generally free to test their workers for drugs or alcohol in the following situations:

  • The employer believes the employee’s performance is impaired due to drugs or alcohol.
  • The employee is involved in an accident or incident.
  • The employer wishes to test employees who are responsible for public safety, administering or dispensing medication, or using a firearm as part of their job duties.

In addition, under the Drug-Free Workplace Act, an employer who receives federal funding such as grants shall be subject to testing.

If it feels like the law is weighted against you, we know how you feel. But there are some situations that offer at least some protection for workers who rely on medical marijuana at work.

Medical Marijuana at Work: Are You Being Discriminated Against?

Under the law, an employer cannot discriminate against its employees on several bases, including:

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  • Disability: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ACA) offers certain protections to applicants or employees. If an applicant is turned down because of a positive drug test and the applicant’s medication was legally prescribed for a disability, the company could be liable.
  • Race, Age, Gender: An employee who singles out certain types of employees for testing could face a discrimination claim.
  • Invasion of Privacy. Even if an employer has a legitimate reason to test an employee, the way they do so may violate that person’s privacy, by requiring employees to disrobe or provide a urine sample in front of others, for instance.

In general, we advise those concerned with using medical marijuana at work to be discreet and to use discretion when discussing their medical care with their co-workers. Obviously, that’s not an ideal answer. But we’re hoping that with the increasing acceptance of medical marijuana, these questions will soon be just a memory.

For answers to your cannabis questions, make sure to stop by our Des Moines dispensary.

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