Weed in the Workplace: What Employers Need to Know

Cannabis buds and lab glass

The saying “third time’s the charm” seems to apply perfectly to the state of Arizona’s bid to legalize the medical use of cannabis.

In 1996, an initiative that would permit doctors to prescribe medical cannabis passed ballot voting but was rejected by the state legislature. Two years later, a similar measure passed ballot voting. But, because only medicines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may be “prescribed” by the doctor, and marijuana isn’t FDA-approved, the measure never came into effect.

In 2010, ballot voters passed the measure for the third time. This time, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) was successfully approved. Now, patients in need of cannabis for medical purposes can receive up to 2.5 ounces of the substance every two weeks, as long as their supply comes from medical dispensaries in Mesa and other cities in AZ, and they have a valid Arizona medical marijuana registry cards. In some circumstances, people may even grow their own marijuana plants for personal medical use.

Medical Marijuana Use in the Workplace

The AMMA goes on to spell out additional rules related to the use (and misuse) of medical marijuana. Specifically, the act doesn’t authorize any person to undertake “any task under the influence of marijuana that would constitute negligence or professional malpractice.”

The quoted text lifted from the act is what employers and employees alike must know regarding the use of medical marijuana in the workplace

Currently, though, the law about medical marijuana use states that Arizona employers cannot fire, penalize, or refuse to hire a job candidate or employee on the basis of being a registered medical marijuana cardholder. Certain exceptions can be made if:

  • The hiring or retention of a candidate or employee would cause the employer to lose monetary or license-related federal benefits
  • The employee is in possession of or uses medical marijuana during work hours and on the employer’s premises.
  • The employee is impaired by marijuana during work hours and on the employer’s premises.

Medical Marijuana Impairment

Arizona’s current law regarding marijuana impairment states that “a registered qualifying patient shall not be considered to be under the influence of marijuana solely because of the presence of metabolites or components of marijuana that appear in insufficient concentration to cause impairment.”

This is because cannabis metabolites can stay up to 30 days in the body, long after the substance can have any impairing effect on the body. For employers, this means that they cannot penalize a medical marijuana-using employee based solely on the results of a positive drug test unless the employee meets any of the discrimination exceptions stated above.

In addition to those exceptions, employers may penalize a medical marijuana-impaired employee if they gather evidence of the employee’s impairment. Evidence showing negligence, diminished coordination or dexterity, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or the noticeable odor of marijuana on the employee.

The Future of Cannabis Use in the Workplace

The current laws regarding medical marijuana use in the workplace are largely ambiguous. The best thing that employers and employees should do is to establish workplace rules regarding medical marijuana use—rules that do not discriminate against registered marijuana users and their medical needs but also do not compromise the operations of the business.