Budding Development: States Requiring Employers To Tolerate Medical Cannabis Use

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Seyfarth Synopsis: Can employers deny employment to people who use cannabis under a medical prescription authorized by state law? In more and more states, the answer is now “No.”

Changes in cannabis laws are creating a new haze for employers. What follows is a quick summary citing some (not all) states that now require employers to think twice before denying employment to individuals because they tested positive for the use of marijuana that they are ingesting for state-authorized medical reasons.

Potpourri of Pot Protective States

Arizona. Unless failure to do so would cause an employer to lose certain benefits under federal law, an employer may not discriminate because of a person’s status as a cannabis cardholder. While employers may discipline employees for ingesting marijuana in the workplace or for working while under the influence of marijuana, a registered qualifying patient cannot be considered to be under the influence of marijuana solely because of the presence of marijuana in the patient’s system. Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 36-2813, 36-2814, 23-493, 23-493.06.

Delaware. An employer cannot discriminate because of a person’s status as a medical cannabis cardholder unless failure to do so would cause the employer to lose certain federal benefits. An employer can, however, prohibit the ingestion, possession, or impairment of marijuana in the workplace. Del. Code Ann. tit. 16, §§ 4905A, 4907A.

Maine. Employers cannot test applicants for cannabis unless they submit a request to the State of Maine and that request is approved. Nor can Maine employers use a positive test for cannabis, by itself, to prove that an employee is impaired by cannabis. An employer can, however, prohibit smoking medical marijuana on its premises, can prohibit employees from using or consuming cannabis in the workplace, and can prohibit employees from working while under the influence. Rev. Stat. tit. 22, § 2423-E; 10-144-122 Me. Code R. 2.13.2; Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 7, § 2454.

Minnesota. Employers may not discriminate against employees or applicants who hold a medical marijuana card or who test positive for marijuana, unless a failure to discriminate “would violate federal law or cause an employer to lose a monetary or licensing-related benefit under federal law or regulations.” If an employee uses, possesses, or is impaired by medical cannabis on the employer’s premises during work hours, then an employer may take action. Even then, however, employers must allow employees to explain (and present verification of enrollment in the patient registry) before taking any adverse action. Minn. Stat. §§ 152.32, 181.953.

New York. Employers cannot discriminate against certified medical marijuana users. A certified medical marijuana user is deemed to have a disability and employers must reasonably accommodate the underlying disability associated with the legal marijuana use. Employers can, however, enforce their policies prohibiting employees from performing work while under the influence. N.Y. Pub. Health Law § 3369; N.Y. Labor Code § 201-d.

But what about California? California currently permits employers to forbid applicants and employees to use cannabis, regardless of whether it is medically prescribed. We refer you to our fearless prediction, however, that California will soon inhale the winds of change and join those states that protect medical cannabis users against employment discrimination. Two California legislators have proposed a bill that would amend the FEHA to create a new protected category: medical marijuana card holders. The bill would prohibit employers from discriminating against individuals for testing positive for cannabis or for being a qualified patient with an identification card. Continue to monitor this space for further developments.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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