Getting “High” on the Job – Medical Marijuana and the Workplace

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Getting “High” on the Job – Medical Marijuana and the Workplace

The first Medical Marijuana dispensary in New Jersey opened in Montclair, NJ over a year ago. The initial legalization of marijuana undoubtedly raised concerns among employers, who were fearful of accommodating the use of medical marijuana in the workplace. Fortunately for them, the New Jersey Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act expressly states that employers are not required to accommodate the use of marijuana in the any workplace. N.J.S.A. 26:61-14. However, recently advocates of medical marijuana use, in New Jersey, have been seeking to ease state restrictions on medical marijuana use and help increase the number of users. Michael Weisser, chief operating officer of the Garden State Dispensary, has suggested that the cost of medical marijuana be reduced and that physician re-authorization policies be amended. Although Governor Chris Christie is adamant concerning his unwillingness to expand the program, it is unclear what the future of medical marijuana holds in this state. What is further unclear is the impact an expanded medical marijuana law would have on employers and the workplace.

Employers on a whole expect their employees to arrive to work with a clear mind and readiness to work; on the other hand, employers are required by law to allow individuals with certain medical issues to take medication when necessary. Questions rise as to whether medical marijuana should be regarded as a normal drug taken to relieve pain. In other words, if one employee can take their insulin shot at work, and another can ingest a pill that relieves pain, why can’t one employee smoke marijuana to accomplish a similar result? The California Supreme Court tackled this issue in 2008, ruling that employers are not required to permit medical marijuana use in the workplace and were allowed to lawfully terminate individuals who tested positive for medical marijuana use in the workplace. Ross v. Ragingwire Telecommunications, Inc., 42 Cal. 4th 920 (2008). There is also a continued tension between state and federal laws in the area of medical marijuana use. For example, in Gonzales v. Raich, the US Supreme Court held that individuals who possess medical marijuana may still be prosecuted under federal law, despite the fact that they live in states such as New Jersey or California.

A balancing act is underway in the New Jersey legislature at the moment. On the one hand, New Jersey has identified the need for medical marijuana in certain medical situations, but on the other hand wishes to preserve and enforce the drug-free workplace. However, with the growing acceptance of medical marijuana and the popularity of less restrictive policies, this balancing act may need reworking. The question then becomes: Who will tackle this first the legislature or the courts?

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