Cannabis Laws And Employer Compliance Vary By State
Marijuana may be legal for medical or recreational use in Washington and eight other states, but that doesn’t mean workers who use cannabis are protected from consequences in the workplace.
In most states, including Washington, employers are free to demand a drug-free workplace — and that includes banning the use of marijuana. Depending on the employer’s policy, workers can be terminated for using marijuana even during their off hours. (The same is true for another legal substance: nicotine. Some employers in Washington state and across the nation ban all use of cigarettes and other nicotine products by their employees.)
But just because employers are free to discriminate against employees who use marijuana doesn’t mean it is likely. In fact, there is evidence to strongly suggest that many employers are becoming far more tolerant of off-duty marijuana use, especially in occupations where workers are in high demand, such as service industries.
For example, while many large employers require applicants to take a drug test before being hired, a growing number have dropped the screen for marijuana to open up a larger pool of potential workers at a time of low unemployment.
“This is going to become the new don’t ask, don’t tell,” employment lawyer James Reidy told The Associated Press.
Marijuana laws by state – A mixed picture
Workers may be surprised to learn that in most states, including Washington, employers are free to dismiss workers for using marijuana — even in their free time. Workers are well-advised to become familiar with their employer’s policy on marijuana use and to be discreet about using cannabis and discussing it at work or on social media.
About a dozen states have pro Cannabis laws in place protecting medical marijuana users. In these states, employees generally cannot be fired or otherwise discriminated against for using medical marijuana when off-duty. In Washington state, workers do not enjoy that protection: Employers may establish a drug-free workplace policy, in which case they do not have to accommodate off-duty use of marijuana — even for medical reasons.
For people who use cannabis recreationally, there is generally little legal protection. Only Maine has acted to protect all cannabis users from job discrimination. Under Maine law companies are barred from firing or refusing to hire someone for using marijuana on their personal time.
Using marijuana on the job
Workers are most likely to put their jobs in jeopardy if they come to work under the influence or use marijuana during the work day. Although a few companies may tolerate or allow the use of marijuana on the job — such as those in the cannabis industry — getting high at work is usually a no-no, on par with working under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
Under federal law, certain employees are prohibited from using marijuana or other banned substances at any time. This includes “safety‐sensitive transportation employees” such as pilots, school bus drivers, truck drivers, train engineers and aircraft maintenance personnel.
Cannabis laws on governing marijuana and the workplace are continuing to evolve, but so far courts have almost always upheld the rights of employers to establish a drug-free workplace policy and fire employees for using cannabis even when off duty. But as marijuana use becomes more accepted — with 64 percent of Americans supporting legalization — many employers seem to be looking the other way, especially for effective, high-performing workers.