California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996 through ballot initiative Proposition 251. Since then, the topic of drug policies in workplaces has been an ongoing debate, with many questions as to whether employers could (or should) enforce zero-tolerance drug policies against employees with medical cannabis prescriptions.
These debates culminated in the 2008 California Supreme Court decision stating that Proposition 251, known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, did not protect employees who have been tested positive for marijuana in their system, even with a prescription. Some legislators have tried to implement protections for employees since then, but for the most part, employers have final say.
But with the tides turning on perception of cannabis use and Proposition 64 going into effect statewide Jan. 1, 2018, making recreational marijuana legal in California, it is time once again for employers to re-evaluate their stances.
According to a report from the Society for Human Resource Management, many companies are revisiting and softening their zero-tolerance policies to take into consideration employees who safely consume marijuana during their private time.
Among the primary reasons for re-opening this dialogue is the fact that unemployment rates are low and use of cannabis is increasing across the board. This means qualified workers are in high demand. It has become increasingly difficult for employers to find and maintain a qualified pool of employees who fit the necessary criteria while also maintaining their zero tolerance policies.
Safety is of course still a top propriety, and jobs that must adhere to federal drug-free regulations (such as truck drivers and pilots) will not see any leniency anytime soon. However, there is a lot of room for discussion in low-risk career fields.
The SHRM report went on to talk about the flexibility that can exist with a more relaxed drug policy. Employers can still test prospective employees and take a firm approach when needed, but tailor their enforcement to match the demands of the job in question.
In addition to widening the pool of potential job candidates, a more relaxed drug policy in the workplace can help maintain the current base of talent. Many establishments have chosen to treat marijuana use in a similar fashion to alcohol. It should not be used on the work site, nor should it be used in a manner that it impairs job performance. Otherwise it is not an issue.
Easing up on cannabis policies would not protect an employee who is impaired on the job and cannot perform their duties. If an incident occurs at work and drug use is suspected, an employer can require a drug test and carry out a punishment, even if their marijuana policy is lax. Not dealing with such violations opens the business up to liability issues and workers’ compensation claims.
Our Orange County marijuana lawyers are eager to see more employers embrace a policy that can co-exist with statewide marijuana legalization and work more closely with employees who desire to use cannabis, both medical and recreational, in a safe and responsible manner. We know that cooperation among businesses, legislators, and citizens alike is the key to marijuana legalization in California being successful, accessible, and safe for all.
The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 949-375-4734.
Rethinking Zero Tolerance on Drugs in the Workplace, Dec. 5, 2017, by Steve Bates, Society for Human Resource Management
More Blog Entries:
Workplace Prohibitions on Marijuana Still in Effect Despite Legalization, Nov. 23, 2016, Cannabis Law Group