November’s Big Winner at the Ballot Box: Marijuana

The clouds of uncertainty surrounding last month’s general election have now dissipated, and a clear winner has emerged. It’s marijuana. 

Of the nine states that asked voters to give the thumbs up or thumbs down to pot, the only one where voters didn’t approve marijuana legalization was Arizona. 

Recreational use of marijuana was approved in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada, bringing the total number of states permitting such use to eight (plus the District of Columbia). 

In addition, medical marijuana got the nod in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota; now, 28 states (plus the District of Columbia) allow marijuana use for the treatment of certain debilitating medical conditions. 

Despite the fact that marijuana remains a controlled substance under federal law, the move to legalize and regulate pot is likely to produce economic benefits, providing states with a source of tax revenue that could eventually bring in more money than tobacco or alcohol. 

These election results might have some employers feeling a return of the anxiety surrounding whether or not they can continue to implement and enforce drug testing policies and prohibitions against the use of marijuana in the workplace. However, the new state provisions on pot generally don’t affect employer policies. 

Although the landscape is shifting, one way to look at the situation is that legalized marijuana is similar to alcohol and prescription drugs. Regardless of whether marijuana is legal or illegal, its possession and use still can be prohibited in the workplace. Employers may simply need to clarify their existing policies and communicate with employees about what has (or hasn’t) changed in the wake of the recent votes. 

It’s always an option to give up on drug testing, given that it can be costly, confusing, and has the potential to land companies in a legal minefield. Employers that aren’t required to conduct drug and/or alcohol testing might instead consider a substance abuse prevention policy that spells out such things as: 

  • reasons the policy has been established;
  • exactly what is expected of employees (for example, employees can’t use, sell, distribute or manufacture illegal drugs or intoxicants in the workplace or abuse alcohol or prescription drugs while at work); and
  • what the consequences will be for employees who violate the policy, such as discipline up to and including termination.

Even if changes in state law don’t necessitate a full rewrite of company policy, it’s always a good idea to periodically review workplace policies and consider making updates to employee handbooks. Being prepared and proactive certainly doesn’t hurt!

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