There are now 29 states with laws that legalize use of medical marijuana. Eight of those states – Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington State, Maine, California, Nevada, Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts – have gone so far as to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Some of the statutes in this states are new, and employers have not yet had the opportunity for judicial interpretation of contracts with employees and contract workers. Take a look at the state of Massachusetts for instance, which recently rejected an employers’ arguments that they could enforce strict no-drug policies against patients who require medical marijuana.

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants said a California sales and marketing firm discriminated against an employee of its Massachusetts operation who uses marijuana to treat Crohn’s disease when it fired her for failing a drug test.

Until now, courts have routinely concluded that because the ADA does not cover employees who use medical marijuana because it remains illegal under federal law. The recent ruling has opened the possibility that accommodating an employee’s use of medical marijuana. The ruling also confirmed that the statute does not require employers to permit use of medical marijuana in the workplace.

Use of Medical Marijuana in the Workplace Highlights:

  • Employers cannot enforce blanket anti-marijuana policies to dismiss employees whose doctors have prescribed marijuana to treat their illnesses.
  • The law requires exploring alternative medications or permitting use of drug only outside of work hours.
  • Dismissing an employee equals denying a handicapped employee the opportunity of reasonable accommodation, and is therefore recognized as handicap discrimination.

Will the decision have an impact in other states across the United States? It’s too early to say anything, however, it is important to note that the Massachusetts law legalizing medical marijuana will become more important in the near future. More employers are likely to review the statute to figure out if a similar argument could be made. The court also indicated that it is imperative to ask the employee’s physician if any other medication could used that was permitted by the employer’s drug program.

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