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Medical Marijuana and the Right to Maintain a Drug-Free Workplace

medical marijuana, Illinois employment law attorneyWith the state’s medical marijuana pilot program now into its fifth month of full-scale operation, employers around Illinois are now faced with tough decisions about the application of drug policies in the workplace. Many business owners are not even sure what the law permits them to do concerning workplace use of medical marijuana by legal, registered patients. The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act does provide some useful guidelines, as you might expect, but the law, ultimately, leaves the decision up to you.

Who Are Registered Users?

Since the program began—officially in January 2014, but not in practice until November of last year—patients suffering from about three dozen specified medical conditions have been applying to participate. Qualifying conditions include HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s diseases, fibromyalgia and many more. Those who have been approved are permitted to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks from state-sanctioned dispensaries, and, if they remain within the parameters set by the program, are exempt from prosecution for possession and use. Registered users are not immune from prosecution for behavior while impaired, such as driving under the influence.

Your Rights as an Employer

The Compassionate Use Act does address, to a certain extent, the rights of employers and business owners. You are under no obligation whatsoever to permit the use of medical marijuana in your workplace; you have the right to maintain a drug-free work environment. As long as your company’s drug policies are nondiscriminatory—meaning they apply equally to all of your employees, workers, contractors, etc.—they are not in violation of the law. Your company can still conduct drug tests and discipline employees for failing them. Technically, this means that you are legally permitted to take disciplinary measures against an employee who is a registered medical marijuana user who fails a drug test, assuming you would take the same action against any other employee as well.

The Challenge of Being Fair

You may be thinking that perhaps a policy based on an employee’s impairment would be more appropriate, and in some ways, you may be right. On the other hand, if you make rules that allow a registered patient to consume medical marijuana, as long as his or her ability to perform his or her job safely is not impaired, you may be opening yourself up to other problems. The legality of medical marijuana is only part of the equation. For example, if you develop an impairment-based standard and disciplinary policy, does that mean employees can consume other legal substances—such as alcohol—while remaining unimpaired? If not, could you be at risk for a discrimination lawsuit? The answers to questions such as these are fairly unclear as of yet, since the medical marijuana program has only recently gotten underway.

Policy Guidance

If you are looking to develop a new drug policy to properly account for registered medical marijuana users, contact an experienced Schaumburg employment law attorney. At our law firm, we are equipped to help you understand your rights and responsibilities under the law and to take the necessary steps toward protecting your company. Call 847-995-1205 to schedule an appointment today.



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