How Should HR Handle Legal Marijuana Use?

Marijuana law changes are effecting hiring and workplace conduct.

Updated on February 27, 2019

While much of the country is cheering and lighting up in celebration of marijuana legalization, human resources professionals have a conundrum on their hands.

As of this writing, 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use with many more having decriminalized it and legalized medical use. Considering most of the country enforces drug-use policies in the workplace, these new laws require some adapting by human resources professionals. While relaxed marijuana laws don’t mean you will regularly deal with someone using marijuana on work premises, you’re likely to deal with it in hiring and overall office conduct.

If marijuana law changes aren’t currently affecting your state, it’s likely that it’s only matter of time, so knowing how to handle this delicate subject is crucial for all human resources professionals. Read on to learn how you can tackle changing marijuana laws and keep business chugging along smoothly.


Do Marijuana Law Changes Affect Hiring & Office Conduct?

According to, Marijuana use leads to impaired judgment, slower reaction times and memory problems—particularly with forming new memories—making it especially dangerous in industries using heavy machinery and other high-risk jobs. But it’s not all bad—one of the main reasons marijuana use has been made legal is for medical use. Studies show it can relieve chronic pain, anxiety and nausea and bring relief for those with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. It’s important to factor in both the good and bad when evaluating what these new laws mean for your company.

Marijuana Law Effects on Hiring

Immediately, you will want to factor in what legal and decriminalized marijuana means for hiring. Are you in an industry that federally requires drug tests before hiring, or drug testing has simply been a company policy? Any federally-funded company is required by law to maintain a drug-free workforce. So if that’s your company, the decision’s already been made and you can continue with your current drug-free policies. Otherwise, depending on your industry, you may need to consider nixing the drug tests, or prepare for a smaller hiring pool.

With fewer candidates that can pass a drug test, many companies are adapting on a position by position basis—The Morning Call cites that companies Excellence Health Inc. and The Denver Post stopped drug testing for nonsafety sensitive positions. However, plenty of companies are standing strong on zero-tolerance policies, like Ford Motor Co. and Restaurants Brands International Inc.


Marijuana Law Effects in the Workplace

Many companies that loosen their drug-testing policies still treat marijuana use like alcohol use: totally inappropriate to be under the influence at work. Unlike alcohol though, marijuana is extremely difficult to test for in the moment, due to how long it stays stored in fat cells.

Let’s say you want to stop drug testing and your company chooses a stance that what employees do in their free time is their business, but still have a clear policy on no marijuana use or influence in the workplace. How do you test that? You are left trusting your employees and consequently, leaving room for the situation to become so obvious during work hours that you need to consider disciplinary action or termination.

If your business chooses to go this route, it’s best to have an education plan in place so employees are adequately informed of the importance of maintaining a drug-free workplace and the consequences of breaking rules. As eloquently puts it, “Employers should formulate a coherent set of non-discriminatory policies that protect company interests while respecting the right to privacy. In this way, unpredictable situations can be kept at a minimum, but the rulebook can always be updated if the initial policy doesn’t prove to be broad or detailed enough.”

Adjusting Your Policy With Clarity & Purpose

If you err on the side of caution and implement a stricter policy, you risk losing employees or not having a large pool to hire from; choose a looser policy, and you risk productivity decreases and workplace conduct issues. Whichever you choose, be sure to review your policy in accordance with state laws, seek legal council and make the policy explicit in writing, so there is no room for misinterpretation.


Ensure Your Policies Stand Up to the Law

Research which employment and termination laws apply to your business on the state and federal level, along with the Drug-Free Workplace Act and any discrimination laws or cases. The last thing you want is to be caught in a discrimination or wrongful termination lawsuit. According to attorney Sachi Barreiro, “In most states, employers are free to fire, discipline, or take other adverse action against an employee who uses marijuana at work or shows up to work under the influence of marijuana—even if they need it to treat a medical condition.”

Find out which laws your state falls under here.

About the author: Tara Caguiat is a marketing professional with a passion for blogging, travel and yoga. She frequently writes for and her personal blog,

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