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Dazed and confused: medical marijuana and the workplace

Minnesota's legalization of medical marijuana is intended to provide relief for patients suffering from a narrow list of qualifying medical conditions. Minnesota employers may, however, feel a bit dazed and confused about its workplace implications. Let's try to clear that purple haze.

The main thing employers need to know is that the lawprohibits them from discriminating in two distinct ways. First, employers must not discriminate in hiring, termination, or any term or condition of employment, or otherwise penalize a person, if the discrimination is based upon the person's enrollment in the state's medical marijuana registry program. In other words, employers cannot take adverse action against someone just because he or she is a patient enrolled in the program.

Second, employers must not discriminate against someone who tests positive for cannabis unless the person used, possessed, or was impaired by medical cannabis on the premises of the place of employment or during the hours of employment. Thus, being on the registry is not permission to show up stoned or light up at work.

It's important to note that under this new law, these two forms of discrimination are actually permitted if not discriminating would violate federal law or regulations or cause an employer to lose a monetary or licensing-related benefit under federal law or regulations. Because of this exception, employers need to take a close look at whether or not they are subject to any federal laws or regulations or licensing restrictions regarding their employees' marijuana use.

The law also allows a person to present, as part of his or her explanation of a positive test under Minnesota's Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace Act, verification of his/her enrollment in the state's patient registry. Although the verification might help explain the positive test, the law does not say that such a verification justifies using, possessing or being impaired by cannabis at the workplace or during work hours. Thus, employers with MDATWA-compliant drug and alcohol testing policies will need to be prepared to address such explanations if provided.

Finally, although the law passed on May 29, 2014, the workplace implications of medical marijuana will not hit until mid-2015. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, patient registrations will not be accepted until May or June of next year, and medical cannabis will not be available until July 1, 2015. Nevertheless, employers should prepare for this by adopting or modifying workplace drug and alcohol policies, including MDATWA-compliant testing policies, to address these issues.

Still confused? Try a bit of Jimi at Woodstock. Then contact me at alexandriamnlaw.com ortaj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney. Copyright 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

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