Marijuana and the Workplace

When it comes to marijuana, perceptions and laws have changed drastically in recent years. As of March 2017, 28 states have laws that legalize marijuana to varying degrees, and several other states may soon join them. Most of these laws allow for the use of medical marijuana, although some also allow recreational use.  But that doesn’t change the fact that marijuana is still an illegal drug under federal law. All of this ends up leaving a lot of employers wondering about the best way to respond to these changing times.



Despite changing attitudes about marijuana, there is very little evidence to support the benefits in using medical marijuana to treat workplace injury claims. Approximately 80% of workplace injuries are musculoskeletal, and there is very little evidence that medical marijuana is an effective treatment for these types of injuries.

In addition to the lack of evidence regarding treatment, rules about who can recommend and dispense medical marijuana vary as well.  Since marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I narcotic by the DEA, our providers cannot prescribe medical marijuana anyway. But that might not stop one of your employees from seeking it out on their own.



As an employer, your primary responsibility is to provide a safe workplace environment. But cultural changes, shifting employee attitudes and conflicting state and federal laws present serious challenges for employers who enforce drug-free workplace programs. With all the differing opinions and lack of research surrounding marijuana, it can be easy for small business owners to simply ignore the issue and wait for the dust to settle. In reality, doing nothing could be a mistake­–especially if your employees are in safety-sensitive roles such as driving or operating heavy machinery.



Your best response to marijuana use and workplace is to develop a formal Drug-Free Workplace Program that includes some key elements: 

Written substance abuse policy: It is critical that you create a written policy that applies to all employees and spells out your rules and expectations. Work with your legal counsel to ensure that your policy complies with all local, state and federal laws.

Supervisor training: Supervisors should be familiar with the program rules and procedures and should be trained to recognize symptoms, how to document a problem and how to handle confidentiality issues.

Employee education: All employees should participate in training to familiarize themselveswith the company’s drug-free workplace policy and help them understand the consequences for violating the rules. Signed acknowledgment forms are also a good idea.

Drug and alcohol testing: Have Worker Care coordinate drug testings. We are able to set up programs to test your workforce randomly, before hiring and/or for suspicious cause. Remember that without outlining and enforcing the consequences of failing a test, your program has little chance to make an impact with your employees.

Ongoing communication: Ensure there is plenty of awareness of your company’s new drug-free workplace policies through safety meetings, employee communications, newsletters and signage.

If you have questions about marijuana and the workplace, or need some help to establish a Drug-Free Workplace Program, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.  Worker Care is always available to answer questions and assist you with your drug-testing needs.

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