Marijuana and the Workplace

As of Thursday, December 15, 2016, the recreational use of marijuana, and possession of limited amounts of marijuana in the home became legal in the State of Massachusetts.

How will this change affect the workplace?

Since there is no legal precedence yet in Massachusetts, and not all that much in states that have previously passed laws legalizing marijuana, the answer to that question is still unknown.

One danger for an employer is that some employees might assume they can come to work either possessing marijuana, or under the influence of it. Some may also think that they can consume marijuana during the workday, during a break for example. So what should employers do in the meantime?

First, all employers should communicate and distribute to all employees the company’s substance abuse and/or alcohol policy and emphasize that the policies apply to marijuana just as it would to alcohol. Employees need to understand that even though recreational use is now legal; arriving to work under the influence of any drug or alcohol, or the use or consumption of any illegal drug, marijuana, or alcohol while working is unacceptable.

Next, employers’ guidelines and policies should be examined to determine if they specifically or inclusively address the change in state marijuana laws and how they relate to the company. Some questions to consider include:

  • What is now acceptable in terms of pre-employment and random drug testing?

  • Are employees allowed to possess marijuana in the workplace, or in their car in the parking lot?

  • How does the fact that THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis, can stay in a person’s system for days or even weeks affect drug testing results and actions?

  • Does the scent of marijuana on a person mean that he or she has consumed marijuana him or herself?

If the current substance abuse policy does not cover the new concerns about marijuana, a new policy should be created. Employers should be extremely careful while creating substance abuse policies, including drug and alcohol testing policies and procedures.

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