Medical doctor wearing white coat holding a bag that contains marijuana.

Marijuana in the Workplace [What You Need To Know]

Marijuana continues to become available as a medical alternative due to increased legalization across several U.S. states. As a result, employers must consider how its use can impact employee performance and safety.

Want to learn more about how medical marijuana affects your team? This article covers all the basics, from studies on how marijuana impacts performance on the job to how you can make effective changes to current drug testing policies in the workplace. 

What Is Medical Marijuana?

Medical marijuana is a form of treatment that uses compounds derived from cannabis sativa plants to help ease symptoms associated with chronic pain or illnesses. It has been approved for use in many countries around the globe and continues to gain popularity across the United States.

A clinician may prescribe medical marijuana for back pain, chronic pain, anxiety or depression. It has also been used to help manage some neurological issues like epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.

Do Employees Have to Notify Employers of Medical Marijuana Usage?

Generally speaking, employees are not required by law to inform employers of using medical marijuana in states where its practice is legal.

In addition, since it’s considered a “medical treatment,” most employers may  not have grounds to refuse hiring someone who uses it. Nevertheless, employers can still implement effective policies regarding the use of drugs on company property.

How Marijuana Use Impacts Workplace Safety

If you don’t think marijuana in the workplace is a big deal, consider the findings from this study that compared postal workers who tested positive for marijuana vs. those who tested negative on a pre-employment test. 

Its findings revealed that workers who tested positive had: 

  • 55% more industrial accidents
  • 85% more injuries
  • 75% greater absenteeism

A more recent report published by the National Academies Press demonstrates how marijuana is shown to impair cognitive performance and increases the risk of motor vehicle accidents. Another study suggests a corresponding link between the acute effects of marijuana use and reduced motivation in its users.

The Bottom Line 

Marijuana use, whether medical or recreational, is a big deal and can adversely affect your workplace, employees, and the cost of doing business via workers comp claims and premiums. And that’s just the start.

Marijuana can also negatively impact: 

  • Cognitive performance
  • Motor function
  • Reaction time
  • Memory
  • Coordination
  • Judgment

All of which are essential skills and abilities required of your employees to perform their jobs and return home safely.

In addition, when under the influence of marijuana, employees may make risky decisions or take unnecessary risks. Because of this, employers need to create policies that protect their workers.

Marijuana Use: Federal, State, and Local Laws and Regulations

Before determining marijuana protocols in the workplace, it’s essential to understand various regulations enacted at both state and federal levels. Depending on where you run your business, there may be different restrictions or allowances for marijuana use in the workplace.

For example, suppose an employee has a prescription for medical marijuana and uses that medication responsibly. In that case, employers cannot legally discriminate against the employee or terminate employment solely because of his use of medical marijuana.

That said, it may surprise you to learn that marijuana is still an illegal substance according to federal law. Yet, as of this writing, 18 states and the District of Columbia allow the cultivation, possession and use of marijuana for all adults. 

  • For the medical use of marijuana, 39 states have legalized its use with specific regulations. Note that many cities have a further layer of regulation that needs to be considered.

Digging deeper into the regulations reveals a tangled web to manage. 

  • For example, many states have banned employers from discriminating against workers who use marijuana for medical reasons. New York and New Jersey go further, banning discrimination for medical or recreational use. 
  • In addition, Nevada prohibits refusing to hire someone because they fail a marijuana test.
  • On top of that, the 1988 Drug-Free Workplace Act requires some federal contractors and all recipients of federal grants to establish drug-free workplaces. 
  • Finally, the U.S. Department of Transportation has very restrictive rules on marijuana usage. You can find that information on their website.

Mitigating the Risks of Marijuana in the Workplace

As you can tell, navigating all the rules, regulations and laws that apply to your company can be challenging. So here’s a short list of things to consider as you develop your policies.

HR Policies Regarding Marijuana Use

  • Establish policies for drug testing in the workplace: Your policies may address pre-employment screening, post-accident testing, random drug testing in the workplace or if you suspect an employee is intoxicated. Of course, this needs to comply with all applicable laws and regulations
  • Define rules for drug-related incidents: Establish specific rules for post-accident testing, workplace use and possession. Additionally, establish rules for handling employee convictions or arrests on drug-related charges. Be sure to include any disciplinary steps that follow.
  • Implement a zero-tolerance policy in the workplace: Implementing such a policy will prohibit employees from being under the influence of unlawful drugs or alcohol in the workplace. It should also set disciplinary actions for violation of the policy.
  • Institute medical and recreational use policies: For medical use, consider requiring employees to provide a physician’s note outlining their treatments. Recreational use policies should be similar to alcohol use policies, prohibiting use before or during work hours.
  • Initiate an employee assistance program (EAP): An employee assistance program may help guide employees into the desired workplace behaviors and even extend beyond the workplace to help them cope with personal challenges. 
  • Train supervisors and employees: Making changes to your company’s policies, particularly implementing a zero tolerance policy in the workplace, needs to be a team effort. Therefore, you must make a concerted effort to communicate those policies to everyone at your company. Furthermore, you’ll need to train supervisors and managers on what’s expected from them to enforce said policies. 

While marijuana can present serious workplace risks, it can create additional company liabilities. Therefore, employers must know their local laws and regulations and factor these into their risk profile. 

Upcoming Webinar on Marijuana in the Workplace

This article only briefly touches on what’s required to address marijuana in the workplace. So to equip you with the tools and resources you need to put a clear policy in place, we encourage you to sign up for our upcoming free webinar, The Impact of Legalized Marijuana and THC Edibles on Employer Drug Testing

Taking place on Thursday, March 23, 2023, at 11 a.m. CST, our webinar will include an insightful presentation and valuable Q&A session to help you feel confident in taking the next step to ensuring workplace safety.

Your Partner for All Workplace Safety Issues

From helping employers assess the safety risks associated with marijuana use in the workplace to building a safety culture through assessments, employee training and workplace safety programs, we’ll work with you to devise a customized, comprehensive plan specific to your business and industry needs.

Connect with us to learn more about all our services and speak with a safety consultant who can help you achieve your safety goals.

We offer free initial phone consultations. Call us directly at 763-417-9599 or complete our contact form, and we’ll contact you.