Medical Cannabis and the Issue of Workplace Protections

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Despite medical cannabis being decriminalized in most U.S. states, there is still quite a bit of ignorance surrounding how it relates to workplace protections. In other words, are medical cannabis users afforded the same protections as those who use prescription medications? That depends on the state.

Some states offer no workplace protection whatsoever. Others offer protection only to public employees. Still others protect private employees but with exceptions. Until we have some sort of consensus on the federal level, the variation in state laws is not likely to change.

Public Employees in Utah

Utah was one of the last states people expected to legalize medical cannabis. But that is exactly what they did with Proposition 2 back in 2018. The state’s medical cannabis program was rolled out the following year. In 2022, Utah lawmakers amended the rules to offer employment protection to public-sector employees.

The operators of the Utah dispensary Beehive Farmacy medical cannabis pharmacy and Salt Lake City say the decision was motivated by a case involving a firefighter and his employer. When it was learned the firefighter had a medical cannabis card, his employer threatened disciplinary action. The case went to court while legislators took up a measure to change the law.

State law now requires all Utah public-sector employers to treat medical cannabis the same as they would any other prescription medication. As long as workplace drug policies are consistent across the board, public-sector employees can use medical cannabis. The one exception are police officers. Due to federal restrictions against carrying a firearm as a user of controlled substances, police departments can still ban medical cannabis consumption – and they do.

Public and Private Sector Employees In South Dakota

South Dakota is one of the states that offers workplace protections to both public and private-sector employees. However, there are some exceptions thanks to a recently passed law. Those exceptions include jobs considered safety sensitive. The jobs include things like pilot, truck driver, healthcare professional, and teacher.

Previous to the new law, employers were not required to allow anyone to work while under the influence of medical cannabis. But any sort of disciplinary action taken against employees who legally used medical cannabis on their own time were not allowed. The new law changes things.

Employers now have the discretion to take disciplinary action when a safety-sensitive job is involved. It is not clear whether the law includes a defined list of such occupations. If not, employers will also have the discretion as to what constitutes a safety-sensitive position.

The Federal Statute Is Still in Play

Regardless of what states like Utah and South Dakota do in relation to workplace protections, the federal statute that makes marijuana illegal under the Controlled Substances Act is still in play. Likewise, federal prohibitions against certain types of employees using medical cannabis still apply.

Law enforcement officers cannot use medical cannabis under any circumstances. Ditto for airline pilots, interstate truck drivers, and any worker whose job is regulated by the federal government.

Federal law also does not limit private employers in any way relating to establishing and maintaining workplace drug policies. So in states that have decriminalized medical cannabis but not addressed the issue of workplace protections, private employers are allowed to do as they see fit.

If you legally use medical cannabis, you would be wise to study up on what state law says regarding your employment. You may or may not be protected against disciplinary action in the event your employee discovers you are a cannabis user. Know what the law says before you are faced with an issue.

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