Another Workplace Medical Marijuana Ruling, Another Head-Scratcher for Employers

September 18, 2017

Hawaii, Sept 14, 2017 - An employee that claimed to be a registered user of medical marijuana was fired for testing positive after an injury at work. (Lambdin v. Marriott Resorts Hospitality Corp., 2017 WL4079718 (09/14/2017)). The employee suffered a panic attack at work, was rushed to the hospital, and tested positive for marijuana. The employer he worked for had a drug-free workplace policy that explicitly stated that marijuana was prohibited even if the employee was taking marijuana medicinally and under the cover of a state law permitting it. The employer policy justified this prohibition by noting that marijuana use is still banned on the federal level. 

In hearing a motion to dismiss, the Court discovered that the employee was not yet enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program when he allegedly smoked the drug to treat a previous injury. Because the employee was not yet enrolled in the program, the Court held that the employee didn’t enjoy its protections. Even so, the Court went further to hold that state laws decriminalizing the use of marijuana for medical reasons do not also require that employers affirmatively allow its use by its employees. The employee may be immune from criminal arrest for marijuana use, but employers are not prohibited from disciplining or firing employees for using it because it is still considered a federal crime. The Court proceeded to throw out the case on all counts. 

What does this mean to you? 

Courts across the country are beginning to grapple with the paradox of marijuana being banned by the federal government but allowed by some state governments. The Court, in this case, settled on medical marijuana remaining impermissible at work due to its still-prohibited status on the federal level. Other state courts (and a few federal courts) have held the opposite, determining that state protections can supersede federal prohibitions on marijuana use, requiring that employers make accommodations for employees like they would need to for any prescribed drug. Which direction should you follow? It depends on where you’re operating your business and how the courts continue to interpret this evolving conflict. It is certainly a frustrating dynamic, but one you must remain educated on if you hope to avoid potentially costly legal problems. 

For more information on this topic, please consult the Encompass Resource Center, www.encompinc.com

Eli Judge
Assistant Director of Legal Research
Encompass Compliance Corp

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