4 Things Employers Should Know About Evolving Medical Marijuana Laws



Over half the states now have comprehensive medical marijuana laws, and with the proliferation of such laws has come a shift in how courts view workplace drug policies. That means employers may want to update their approach.

Here are some key points for employers, as identified by a panel of attorneys at the recent 11th Annual American Bar Association Labor and Employment Law Conference.

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: What laws should companies be aware of when implementing a drug testing program?]

1. All Marijuana Use Is Still Illegal Under Federal Law  

Marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, meaning that it is considered to have no medical benefits. As a practical matter, this means that there is no such thing as a prescription for medical marijuana, said Michael Subit, an employee-side attorney with Frank Freed in Seattle. He noted, however, that doctors can work around this by recommending its use for medical reasons in states where its use is legal. 

About 30 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana use; eight of those states have also approved recreational use. Some earlier laws explicitly stated that users didn't have employment protections, but some of the newer state laws have made things more complicated by providing employment protections to medical marijuana users—particularly under state disability laws.

Subit noted, however, that no state law provides employment protections for recreational use … at least not yet.

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