Marijuana in the Workplace

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Marijuana refers to the dried stems, flowers, leaves and even seeds from the Cannabis indica or Cannabis sativa plant. The Cannabis plant has been found to contain mind-altering chemical known as THC and other similar compounds (Gundersen, 2015). Despite the widespread use of marijuana in the United States, it is still mostly considered an illicit drug. Changes in marijuana laws have recently been the center stage of state legislation. Currently, thirty-three states plus the District of Columbia have recently passed laws that broadly legalize marijuana use in some form. Ten states and the District of Columbia have adopted comprehensive laws that have legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes (Gundersen, 2015). More states allow for the limited use of marijuana under certain circumstances depending on the specifications.

Traditionally, there was no question about the status or ability of use of marijuana in the workplace. This is because most companies have forbidden the use of any illegal drugs within the workplace.

However, with the legalization of marijuana in most states, there is a growing concern among employers on how best to go forward and whether or not they should allow its use within the workplace (Gundersen, 2015). This comes from the fact that employers are required to provide a safe environment, and any form of drug use can result in an impairment that could be a risk to workplace safety. This article will start by discussing the federal laws of marijuana then discuss the employer workplace concerns. Additionally, the paper will touch on related legal cases on marijuana use and offer advice for employers faced with conflict on a daily basis related to marijuana use.

Federal Laws of Marijuana

Despite the legalization of marijuana use for both medicinal and recreational purposes, cannabis is still illegal under Federal law. The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) is the federal act responsible for regulating drug use in the country (Cambron, Guttmannova & Fleming, 2017). The CSA does not recognize or acknowledge the use of cannabis in any form be it for medicinal or recreational purposes. Federal laws of marijuana generally apply against individuals who cultivate, possess or even distribute cannabis in large quantities. This, therefore, implies that under the federal law marijuana is treated as a controlled substance just like hard drugs like heroin and cocaine. The principle in which cannabis is considered illicit and controlled under the federal law is because it has the potential for being abused and also because of mind-altering effect.

The CSA classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug which means that this drug is viewed as highly addictive and at the same time viewed to have no medicinal value. Federal cannabis laws are serious, and punishment for individuals found guilty of their violation is frequently steep. Under the federal cannabis is considered a dangerous drug and with no acceptable explanation to its medicinal value. Therefore, medicinal purposes or issues cannot be used as a defense during a trial when an individual is accused of violating federal requirements on marijuana use and possession.

Employer concern for marijuana use in the workplace

Employers have the duty and responsibility to accommodate their workers on some grounds including those that have some form of mental or physical disability Medical marijuana prescriptions fall under this category and hence the need for employers to accommodate the needs of these employees. However, as cannabis users are increasing, there is a growing concern among employers that their duty to accommodate may be abused in number (Stringham, Allard, Knapp & Minor, 2017). The legalization of marijuana by states has correlated with the increase of requests to accommodate, and this is an indication of the possible abuse of the responsibility of accommodating employees conditions by employers.

At the same time, employers have the duty of ensuring that their workers are provided with a safe and healthy working environment. Safe in this case also implies or rather covers the issue of protecting employees from potential physical harm within the working environment (Stringham, Allard, Knapp & Minor, 2017). However, with the wave of the legalization of cannabis, employees have the concern that increased use of this drug may collide with employer’s duty to accommodate. That is, it may be impossible to offer a safe and healthy work environment for employees and at the same time accommodate their use of cannabis (Stringham, Allard, Knapp & Minor, 2017). This is given the potential effects of cannabis that include potential impairment as it has mind-altering chemicals. This can potentially be dangerous in workplaces such as construction where employees under the influence of this drug may cause unsafe conditions not only for themselves but also for those around them.

Another growing concern among employees is the broad definition of the word impairment. The broad aspect or rather definition of impairment when it comes to marijuana creates a knowledge gap on how correctly this drug should be allowed in the workplace (Stringham, Allard, Knapp & Minor, 2017). The broad aspect of this definition has placed employers at crossroads as they are unaware of cases where they should reinforce their policies and disallow marijuana use within the workplace. This is considering that any termination deemed unlawful can result in long-term effects for the company. At the same time, since most companies often require drug tests when recruiting, employers are facing a growing concern on situations where they can fail to employ an individual using marijuana without being labeled or sued for discrimination (Stringham, Allard, Knapp & Minor, 2017).

Legal Cases on Marijuana use in the workplace

Katelin Noffsinger filed a lawsuit in Connecticut accusing Bride Brook of violating anti-discrimination laws. The Plaintiff Katelin Noffsinger is a registered medical marijuana user, and in 2016, she applied for a job in Bride Brook Nursing and Rehabilitation. The company required her to pass a pre-employment drug test (Elliott, 2018). Noffsinger had informed the company that she was a registered marijuana user and that she would most likely not pass the drug test. However, she went ahead and took the test in the presence of THC (Elliott, 2018). After the results, Bridge Brook rescinded their job offer. Initially, Bride Brooke has attempted to dismiss the case, asserting that the claim was preempted by Americans and Disabilities Act (ADA), the Food and Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) and CSA. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff reinforcing that CSA did not prohibit employers from employing marijuana users (Elliott, 2018).

Another legal marijuana-related case took place in May 2018 where the Superior Court of Rhode Island held that the medical marijuana act I the area implied that private right action (Pitzen, 2018). This, therefore, meant that employers who failed to hire marijuana users violated the act. This ruling was made after a marijuana user filed a case against a potential employer with the claim that discrimination was practiced by the company (Pitzen, 2018). With the legalization of marijuana in states, the litigation trend has changed wave and mostly worked against employers who are no longer protected by the federal law of marijuana.

Advice for Employer

As many states continue to legalize marijuana, the issue of use has become a private act hence no longer influence from third parties. Employers are required to follow not only federal but at the same time state laws. This, therefore, means employers have to always consult legal aspect before making a decision related to either recruiting or even terminating a marijuana user with the reason of marijuana use. Secondly, it is important to note that the safety of employees is one of the topmost priority of employers. Therefore, if marijuana use if jeopardizing the safety and health of individuals, employees have the right to act in the best interest and hence enforce termination. However, this matter is of a delicate nature, and an employer should always ensure that they consult legal professions so that no state and federal laws are violated in the process.

In the same manner, organizations have the responsibility and duty to accommodate employees with certain conditions. In this case, marijuana users for medicinal purposes should be accommodated. However, employers should have a clear policy on which category of groups of individuals should or should not be accommodated. This would prevent grey lines and loopholes that can be taken advantage off by individuals using marijuana for recreational purposes. At the same time, it is important always to remember that employers are only required to accommodate employees within reasonable costs. Any additional costs needed is not provided by the law and hence not the responsibility of employers.


  1. Cambron, C., Guttmannova, K., & Fleming, C. B. (2017). State and national contexts in evaluating cannabis laws: A case study of Washington State. Journal of drug issues, 47(1), 74-90.
  2. Elliott, D. (2018). Medical Marijuana and Its Impact On the Workplace | The Legal Intelligencer. Retrieved from https://www.law.com/thelegalintelligencer/2018/05/27/medical-marijuana-and-its-impact-on-the-workplace/
  3. Gundersen, D. C. (2015). The legalization of marijuana: Implications for regulation and practice. Journal of Nursing Regulation, 6(3), 34-38.
  4. Stringham, C., Allard, I., Knapp, S., & Minor, M. (2017). Medical marijuana in the work place: keeping small business informed. Small Business Institute Journal, 13(1), 16-29.
  5. Pitzen, T. (2018). Trend in Medical Marijuana Suits Favors Employees. Retrieved from https://www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/publications/litigation-news/top-stories/2018/trend-in-medical-marijuana-suits-favors-employees/

Cite this paper

Marijuana in the Workplace. (2020, Sep 09). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/marijuana-in-the-workplace/

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