How Will Employers Handle Medical Marijuana? New Rules Could Prove Tricky in the Workplace

February 26th, 2014

046_091008-424x636With the gradual softening of marijuana laws all across the country, including two states legalizing recreational use, employers will be faced with tough decisions regarding employee usage. There are 20 medical marijuana dispensaries planning to open within the next year in Massachusetts and this could lead to uncharted legal territory. Marijuana use and distribution is still illegal at the federal level in the United States, meaning employers could potentially still fire employees for their legal use of medical marijuana in Massachusetts. 

School of Management professor Kabrina Chang, an expert in employment law, weighed in on the possible conflict in a recent Boston Business Journal article, saying “It’s counter-intuitive, because many people with conditions like cancer and chronic pain can work, and ideally we’d like them to work, but the reality is that you are likely to be fired.”

Chang also notices a hypocritical situation regarding other drugs prescribed for medicinal use and the Americans with Disabilities Act,  ”It doesn’t make much sense, but a worker with back pain who is impaired at work from using (the narcotic) vicodin would be protected under the ADA, whereas a medical marijuana user could be fired even if he didn’t use the drug on the job.”

Chang offered her thoughts on rights in the workplace and how initial problems could highlight this problem in a piece for GoLocalWorcester, saying “For the communities that pass specifically medical marijuana laws, it never occurred to them that the people they were trying to help would lose their jobs … I think people getting fired, that’s going to raise public awareness.”

But Chang believes that steps can be taken to prevent medicinal use from being a punishable or fireable offense for employees, the only issue being that it is challenging, if not impossible, to differentiate medicinal use from on-the-job use when testing.

Contact Chang at 617-353-4154 or kkchang@bu.edu and follow her on Twitter @ProfessorChang.

For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on Twitter at @BostonUNews.

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