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Medical Marijuana and the Workplace

Jars of bud and a joint sit unsmoked on a table in states where workers cannot medicate onsite, despite their medical marijuana cards.

Joint Opinions

Medical Marijuana and the Workplace

With cannabis being legalized recreationally or medicinally in more than 20 States throughout the U.S., there has been a plethora of wonder and conversation in regards to the legal implications and ramifications for employers that operate within these states. The freshness of legalization in these states as well as the impending statutes in a number states where cannabis is not yet legal begs the question: What must employers do to their policies, procedures and practices? Can they forego hiring a prospect based on the results of a positive marijuana screening? Can they fire an employee for testing positive for marijuana during a drug screening?

Without official clarification and elucidation, employers have no idea what exercises are legal and illegal. Most states explicitly address these questions in their legislation, with orders able to be utilized at the discretion of the employer. Laws provide employers with the power to terminate employees who violate mandates that prohibit the use of marijuana in or on workplace property. While these regulations protect the business, they do nothing to protect employee rights. The looming issue revolving around marijuana and the workplace is whether businesses can terminate or punish workers for using marijuana away from the workplace, on their own time.

A few states with legislation supporting medicinal marijuana have taken steps to combat the possibility of lawsuits arising from the termination of employees that test positive for marijuana. In Arizona, Delaware and Minnesota, it’s a violation of persons’ rights if they are terminated by an employer for testing positive for marijuana if they possess a valid medical marijuana recommendation. Conversely, in California, Montana, Oregon and Washington, it’s acceptable for employers to fire employees regardless of the state law…. but what about people with disabilities?

In an article titled “The Impact of Medical Marijuana in the Workplace,” Sarah C. Matt states that a “number of employers are wondering whether they have an obligation to accommodate a disabled employee’s use of medical marijuana, whether by waiving the employers’ policies regarding drug testing and use or possession of drugs in the workplace, or by refraining from disciplining or terminating employees who use or possess marijuana at work in accordance with state law.”

Due to the Federal Controlled Substances Act, The Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t protect people who use marijuana for medical purposes even if usage is sanctioned by state law. As long as judiciary committees defer to federal law, they have the right to incorporate and impose zero-tolerance policies for positive drug tests. This was the case in 2008 and 2010 in California and Oregon, when state courts deemed that employers had no responsibility to make concessions for disabled workers using medical marijuana. What about states such as Colorado and Washington that have legalized marijuana recreationally? Are disabled people still able to be terminated if they haven’t used marijuana on work property or gone to work under the influence of marijuana?

Many state supreme courts are keeping a close watch on the case of Coats v Dish Network, LLC. Dish Network is accused of unlawfully terminating a quadriplegic employee who was a valid medical marijuana card holder. The company claims that they fired the employee after he tested positive for THC, even though he was never high while on employer property. A Colorado trial court dismissed the case and a Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision deeming the employer’s actions lawful due to federal statues stating that marijuana is illegal. However, the Department of Labor has stated that a person cannot be terminated due to lawful behavior away from the workplace.

If the Colorado Supreme Court rules in approval of Coats, employers may be forced to look more closely into maintaining a zero-tolerance policy that doesn’t consider what’s legal at the state level.

Still, there are many pertinent questions:  Is it constitutionally legal for an employer to fire an employee based on a failed drug test if the employee lives in a state where marijuana is legal and has never used marijuana while working or on the premises? If a person is lawfully able to use medical marijuana through the use of a government sanctioned prescription, do employers have a right to regulate the employee usage while they are not working? Can employers discipline employees that use marijuana away from the workplace in states that have legalized marijuana for recreational usage?

The landmark Coats case could answer the series of complicated questions related to the specifics of medical cannabis in the workplace.

How do you feel about marijuana testing in the workplace? Tell us in the comments below.



  1. Sergio McGeez

    December 23, 2014 at 5:55 am

    Marijuana does have its good and bad side affects but alcohol is a way bigger problem then marijuana is.

  2. Bobby

    December 19, 2014 at 11:42 am

    Taking into consideration that the “workplace” as a whole is even accepting this as a potential normalcy, I see no reason to impend termination due to rules/laws/procedures set prior. Revise all of them. With legalization as a fulcrum, business owners should now take steps to regulate the amount of THC/Marijuana an employee consumes or maintains in his/her body on a normal, daily basis. The focus needs to be on regulation and moderation not termination for medicinal/recreational users. This is just my opinion.

  3. robert

    December 14, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    As long as they show up for work, employers don’t fire employees for spouse abuse or dwi, though they are also illegal & deadly behaviors. Are considered “personal” problems, employers claim “isn’t their business outside of the workplace”. Same should go for marijuana use. Legalize it fully, now!

  4. Fred

    December 10, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    I am a Medical Cannabis Patient from Washington state. I was fired for not passing a per employment drug test. I filled for my employment benefits and was denied. I appealed and the denial was reversed after a hearing. I didn’t have to pay back anything. Wish I could tell everyone in Washington about the whole story that might have this same predicament.

  5. Joshua Temple

    December 10, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Drug testing is unconstitutional and if people refused them i mean most then we would not have it. I think Feds need to reschedule same as alcohol it does not belong as schedule 1. Is time for the people to rise up who are in support and hold rallies all across USA to stop employer drug testing for pot used off hours. Its time to restore freedom of choice

  6. Gerald Lemons

    December 10, 2014 at 4:28 am

    What I do on my time away from work is not my employers bisness! As long as it does not affect what I do while I’m at work! If I’m doing what I’m getting paid to do to the best of my ability then a drug test should not matter! Don’t get me wrong! Processed drugs like cocaine, meth and other hard drugs have no bisness being used by a human being for recreational use! They need to federally legalize marijuana and stop destroying law abiding citizens lives! And let all the people in jail for marijuana out!

  7. dewy

    December 10, 2014 at 2:29 am

    i honestly feel. it should be like alchol. you want to drink ? well, do it on your own time ill respect ya if you respect the work place. it is a medicine. it helps asthma, anxiety, pains, gives appeitite to eat if you have trouble. helps you think. get things d0ne and expand your mind ect.

  8. ray

    December 9, 2014 at 11:05 pm

    I didn’t agree with this testing from jump street not that I was doing any thing but felt that what I do out side of my work is my business

  9. Chris

    December 8, 2014 at 4:52 am

    Medical Marijuana helps me to be able to funtion as a human, due to chronic pain and PTSD. I hope to be able to run my own buisness someday, and although today is difficult with medical marijuana I am able to drive on with the mission. The mission of life.

    Please be kind to others, and thank a Veteran when you can. Someone always has it worse off then you.

    Im grateful this holiday season to be living in the country I love, and the state of massachusetts where I have the right to use medical marijuana under the supervision of a doctor.

    Gods Speed to all that need medical marijuana.

    • Coolinnout

      December 10, 2014 at 2:14 am

      God bless you

    • Nosa Mingus

      December 10, 2014 at 6:27 am

      I totally , agree with you Chris ! You took the words right out of my mouth ! Good luck to you , and Happy holiday ! we need to educate people on the benefits of cannabis . it would have a positive change in so many people’s life’s , if they would open their minds and truly research cannabis . I think it’s a miracle medication, that has a bad reputation. Most people think if you use cannabis, that you are a stoner, lazy , bum . That’s such a negative stereotype, I used to think that way myself, that’s how I was raised, never thought that I would be pro cannabis, but I have studied the pros and cons, and I’m amazed at the benefits!!! Keep thinking positive , picture your business,already in your mind, and you will succeed! Good luck! Watch the documentary on Netflix,if you can, it will help you make your dream come true !

      • Nosa Mingus

        December 10, 2014 at 6:31 am

        Chris, the documentary, on Netflix, is “the secret “.

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