Marijuana Is Legal in 36 States. How Will It Impact the Workplace?

California Joins the Growing Rank of States  to Legalize Recreational Use of Marijuana

As of January 1st, California has officially become 1 of now 36 states to legalize marijuana in some shape or form. Seven states and the District of Columbia have legalized it for recreational use with the newest additions being California, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Maine. California grants people 21 and up to have one ounce of marijuana and grow the maximum amount of 6 plants at home. Employers and employees from across the nation are now adjusting to new legislation that could influence work atmosphere. Many employers feel it is best to treat the newly legalized drug as if it’s alcohol and keep their policies unchanged.

Marijuana Legalization Status Medical marijuana broadly legalized Marijuana legalized for recreational use No broad laws legalizing marijuana
Marijuana Legalization Status. Photo Credit governing.com

Employers & Employees Weigh in on New Marijuana Policies

A Bakersfield business owner, Jimmy Bunting, told ABC that he won’t be having any changes in their drug policies and “what they do on their own time is their own time, as long as it doesn’t affect our job or the work we do with our customers.” Civil Litigator, Gabriel Godinez, said that no one “is absolved [from drug penalties on the job], whether its medical or recreational cannabis. If you come up dirty, you have the possibility of being terminated.” These attitudes have presented a serious issue for people such as Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic terminated from Dish Network in 2010 for testing positive for marijuana, who has testified to the Colorado Supreme Court of its importance to his health but was subsequently denied in 2015. Coats said shortly after the verdict that:

Although I’m very disappointed today, I hope that my case has brought the issue of use of medical marijuana and employment to light.

Now nearly 3 years later, many California employers still hold similar beliefs and will make workers abide by federal standards or their tailored company drug policies and, like alcohol, can be drug-screened after being suspected of coming to the job intoxicated resulting in potential termination. There is even a breathalyzer specifically for detecting marijuana developed by an Oakland-based entity, Hound Labs. The company wants to launch its final version in Q2 of 2018 targeting law enforcement and marijuana consumers, but employers could take advantage of the device as well.

The Public Has Spoken and Approve of Smokin’ Marijuana (Legally of Course)

The times are changing and public attitude has reflected a more accepting take on pot consumption. A Quinnipiac Poll conducted last August found that nearly 95% of Americans approved of adults legally using marijuana for medical use. An October Gallup Poll discovered that 64% of Americans also favor the legalization of marijuana. On average, only 20% of people support the government enforcing federal laws in states that have already legalized the substance.

Will the U.S. Attorney General Curtail Cannabis?

[The KKK] were OK until I found out they smoked pot.

-U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III

Despite Donald Trump voicing a supportive tone towards the plant, his appointed attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has been a huge opponent of the continued normalization of marijuana. Criticizing FBI Director, James Comey, along with Attorney’s General, Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder for not aggressively carrying out federal regulations on the drug, Sessions has said recent marijuana reforms are a “tragic mistake,” and is “already causing a disturbance in the states that have made it legal.” However, legislation has, for the most part, protected states from federal backlash and it remains unclear if the weed industry really had negative implications on crime in places like Colorado and Washington; two of the first original states to legalize recreational marijuana.

Nevertheless, many employers are siding with the federal standard that will penalize employees regardless if they’re using the herb for medical reasons.

As some celebrate the newly-established pot provisions, others are sweating over the potential issues that may arise related to employment, crime and federal intervention. Regardless of the legislation passing of cannabis laws in 36 states, California employers from across the board will keep their drug policies the same. This means to be responsible before and while on the clock and even if it is required for medical use, deal with the consequences of employer drug-related guidelines.


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