Legal Marijuana Finds Itself at Odds with Employment Law

In a case just now reaching the Colorado Supreme Court, a man with a valid medical marijuana card who says he smoked before bed to relieve the effects of paralysis may soon find out whether his employer was in the right to fire him for violating a drug-free workplace policy. The effects of this case could spread to other states and potentially to the federal government, whose continued criminalization of marijuana seems to be at increasing odds with science and public opinion.

When New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Compassionate Care Act on July 7, he made the state the 23rd to legalize medical marijuana. The Department of Health hopes to have the program in place by the end of 2015. In the meantime, New York employers and workers should be aware of what the new law does and does not accomplish:

  • Certified medical marijuana users will now be protected from workplace discrimination based on disability.
  • However, as a means of striking a balance between the interests of businesses and their employees, workers can be prohibited from and disciplined for working while impaired.
  • The Commissioner of Health ultimately determines what constitutes a condition serious enough to warrant medical marijuana. Some conditions, such as HIV/AIDS and cancer, are already identified, but the list is not finite and may be open to changes.
  • Because of the relationship between disability and conditions warranting medical marijuana use, employers may be required to accommodate legal marijuana users among their workforce, as they would any other disabled employee.
  • Smoking marijuana will still be illegal, and the drug may not be ingested in public spaces.

New York workers who use marijuana for medical conditions may have questions about how the law applies to them. If you are concerned about how legal medical marijuana use might impact your employment, meet with an experienced New York City labor law attorney at the Derek T. Smith Law Group.

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