Illinois Becomes The 20th State To Legalize Medical Marijuana; Will Drug-Free Workplace Policies Go Up In Smoke?

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On August 1, 2013, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, making Illinois the 20th state to legalize medical marijuana. This law goes into effect on January 1, 2014. What does this law mean for employers in Illinois? While the Act prohibits an employer from "penalizing" an employee solely for his or her status as a "registered qualifying patient" under the Act, employers retain substantial rights under the Act. An employer may enforce a drug-free workplace policy and drug test employees in a non-discriminatory manner. An employer may discipline registered qualifying patients who demonstrate "specific articulable symptoms" of impairment from marijuana use while at work, as long as the employees are afforded a reasonable opportunity to contest the determination. Symptoms of marijuana use listed in the Act include impaired speech and coordination, "irrational or unusual behavior," "disregard for safety," and "disruption of a production or manufacturing process," among others. An employer may also discipline registered qualifying patients based on a good faith belief that they used or possessed marijuana while on the employer’s premises or during work hours.  Finally,  an employer may discipline or fire or take other adverse employment action based on an employee’s or applicant’s status as a registered qualifying patient if failing to take such action would put the employer in violation of federal law or would cause it to lose a monetary or licensing-related benefit under federal law or regulations. If you have employees or operations outside of Illinois, click here for a survey regarding medical marijuana laws in other states previously published in Laner Muchin's newsletter.