Cannabis in the workplace

In nearly 75 percent of the US, cannabis is legalized to one degree or another. Hence the question: how are employers reacting to rapidly changing laws in their regions?

As of November 3, 2020, election day, a total of 36 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have approved medical cannabis programs.

Of these, 15 states have legalized adult marijuana use, including even the US capital Washington, DC.

However, marijuana is still banned at the federal level.

This controversy creates many unique challenges for employers who adhere to drug testing policies and are concerned about workplace performance and safety.

Jobseekers may be refused employment, even if they are responsible cannabis users and are fully qualified and qualified.

How are these issues resolved? Is it possible to achieve a common language between workers and owners?

Medical versus recreational use

When refusing a job for using cannabis, it is important to distinguish whether the worker is using it for medical or recreational purposes. According to the laws of several states, cannabis can be prescribed under a variety of predetermined conditions. To understand the differences, we recommend reading the article on the difference between legalizing and decriminalizing cannabis . 

For example, when someone uses cannabis to prevent an anxious mood, doctors may prescribe specific access for the herb to be consumed throughout the day.

Employers need to know if any of their employees are medical cannabis patients; and whether the state has laws that protect its user from legal and disciplinary labor harassment.

Dismissal of an employee for the use of drugs permitted by law is the basis for legal proceedings.

Typically, employers can request drug testing before hiring or at any time if they do not have legal permission to use cannabis for medical reasons.

Regarding recreational cannabis, many employees argue that its use should be authorized outside of business hours. If this hobby does not affect productivity, it should be equated with drinking after work.

There is a reason for this.

Safety engineering

One of the most common problems for employers is compliance with safety rules when working with driving, complex machinery or professions in which physical contact is made between an employee and a client (physiotherapist, nurse, doctor, massage therapist, etc.).

Another question immediately arises – the payment of compensation to workers who use cannabis.

For example, in Wisconsin, if an employee is injured in the workplace while under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, including cannabis, and other prescription drugs, the employer can reduce the compensation payment by 15 percent, with a maximum reduction of $ 15,000.

In Michigan, work-related injuries sustained while intoxicated by such substances are not covered at all by monetary compensation.

“Employers must properly understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to drug testing, because relevant laws in the states are constantly evolving,” explained David Reischer, lawyer and CEO of “But as long as marijuana is illegal at the federal level, employers are usually allowed to have a zero-drug policy in the workplace.

Interesting in this regard is a study published in the journal Health Economics, which showed that states with active medical cannabis programs saw workers’ compensation claims declined by 7 percent.

It is difficult to find a confident explanation for this drop, but perhaps, instead of demanding compensation, employees chose to self-medicate and preferred to treat their ailments with marijuana.

Cannabis use in the workplace

An interesting topic that is completely at the mercy of employers.

Contrary to the expectation, there is no definite negative answer; some employers allow their workers to use cannabis during breaks if they believe it is conducive to creativity and productivity.

According to Steve Nelson Jr., owner of a Denver hemp club, allowing cannabis in the workplace helps build rapport with his clients, creating a relaxing environment for his employees.

Of course, this policy is not applicable to any business.

Employers must understand what tasks are assigned to his employee. Some jobs just can’t be done high.

Arizona legalized recreational cannabis this month, but it looks like the traditional approach to cannabis use in the workplace will continue.

“Now he will be treated in Arizona like any legal drug,” says lawyer Bob St. Clair. – Like alcohol or cold medicine.

But the employer’s requirements for behavior in the workplace will not change from this.

The cannabis reform leaves the owner the right to prevent drug use. He is not required to authorize or tolerate the use and storage of substances at work.

In this respect, moderate use is becoming more important. If you come to work clearly high, you will be sent home, as in the case of alcoholic intoxication.

A word to the owner

Some employers are not interested in such nuances at all, and they adhere to a policy of completely banning the use of cannabis both at work and during non-working hours.

When working in such firms, an employee who did not undergo a sudden drug abuse will either be punished or fired.

“As an employer, I am not going to loosen up drug policy, although we are moving into a new era of tolerance and legality for cannabis,” said Abtin Hashemyan, owner of the Subway Los Angeles franchise. – Against the background of legalization in California, I had to lay off several employees due to productivity problems associated with cannabis intoxication in the workplace.

Other hosts are personalized and punish employees for cannabis only when their productivity has clearly declined.

There are ways to avoid extreme measures, but most employers try to play it safe and have the most stringent cannabis policies in the workplace.

In some cases, this attitude towards the employee is caused purely by the conditions of insurance and profit.

More and more employers are reviewing cannabis regulations at work, but as long as the ban remains at the federal level, most companies still have zero tolerance policies.

There may be exceptions for medical patients with a valid medical card, but even this does not provide a guarantee.

Employee tips

As a herbalist, you will have to accept the fact that even legal marijuana use in the state will not allow you to get a job in some professions without a drug test.

A number of companies also ban other permitted substances such as alcohol. 

In some regions, even smoking cigarettes in the workplace is prohibited.

For example, many fire stations in California do not employ cigarette smokers because this could affect their health and productivity.

If your job is not drug tested, you will hold onto it as long as your productivity remains high.

With regard to medical cannabis, employees need to consult with a lawyer to determine the level of their rights and how best to exercise them.

If possible, look for cannabis-friendly employers so you don’t get discouraged by a sudden drug test and firing later.


Whether you are an employee or a proprietor, attitudes towards cannabis use in the workplace can be challenging.

There is no one size fits all approach, but the good news is that more and more states are introducing laws to protect cannabis users from discrimination at work.

On the other hand, many employers are beginning to realize that non-working cannabis use does not negatively impact productivity and are changing policies for the better in their companies.

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