As of the date of this blog, 33 states plus the District of Columbia currently allow the use of medical marijuana. Ten states and DC have legalized recreational marijuana. With legalization rolling out across the country, this could have an enormous impact on employers and it’s very important that insurance agents have knowledge of how the different statues may affect their clients, even if your state has not yet legalized the use of medical marijuana.
The exact law varies depending on the state, but for the most part, the regulations mandate anyone prescribed medical marijuana must have one of the designated serious medical conditions as diagnosed by a qualified and registered physician. Medical marijuana typically comes as a pill, oil, tincture, or liquid. It may also be dispensed as a gel, cream, or ointment. Patients with lung issues may be approved to use it in their nebulizers. There are a handful of states that allow smoking medical marijuana.
Because of the American Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are not allowed to discriminate against employees on the basis of disability. It requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to disabled workers if one is needed. In addition, medical marijuana is commonly prescribed to people with disabilities who are considered protected individuals under the ADA. In some cases, the use of marijuana is what allows some disabled people to be able to perform their job functions pain-free.
A study published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse notes employees who tested positive for marijuana had 55% more industrial accidents, 85% more injuries, and 75% greater absenteeism compared to those who tested negative. Researchers also noted decreased productivity, increased worker compensation and unemployment compensation claims, high turnover, and lawsuits. Given this research, it’s understandable that employers may have concerns. However, these findings were from recreational marijuana, not medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana that comes in other forms does not contain the same amount of THC, and therefore doesn’t have all of the same side effects. In fact, the use of medical marijuana can increase productivity in patients that suffer without the drug. In short, the side effects of taking the drug may outweigh the side effects of the illness.
Some states, though, allow patients to smoke medical marijuana or are pushing through legislation to allow it. This will make the symptoms of both medical and recreational the same and should increase concern for workers in many industries.
Where employees have brought lawsuits against their employers, the states usually side with employers who reprimand workers that test positive for marijuana, even if they have a medical marijuana card. According to the National Safety Council, though, some states protect employee rights and have safeguards in place to protect workers with medical marijuana cards from facing disciplinary action. It’s worth noting that federal law supersedes state law, and still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Also, most states will not pay worker compensation to an employee who tests positive for marijuana at the time of an accident.
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