Marijuana Drug Testing: Considerations for Healthcare Employers

Marijuana Drug Testing: Considerations for Healthcare Employers
Marketing Manager

The ongoing debate on legalizing marijuana and its effect on the workplace has brought major concerns for employers. At the federal level, marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substance Act—which is considered to have a high potential for dependency and not accepted for medical use, making the distribution of marijuana a federal offense in all 50 states.

What do you do if Medical or recreational use of marijuana is legal in your state, but an employee’s drug test results return positive for traces of THC? Texas’ recent ruling over Senate Bill 339—permitting qualified physicians to “prescribe low-THC cannabis” to patients suffering from extreme, chronic seizures—continues to prove the upward trend of cannabis legalization and healthcare employers must understand its complexities and approach it with caution.

Medical & Recreational Marijuana

As it currently stands, 24 States, most recently Texas, and Washington D.C. permit qualified individuals to use marijuana for medical purposes; additionally, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Washington, D.C. have passed laws permitting    recreational marijuana to be consumed and distributed with certain restrictions. Although few marijuana-friendly states require employers to accommodate employees who use cannabis, by and large, employers still have the right to maintain a drug-free workplace.

There have been a number of court cases that have upheld the employer’s stance against the use of marijuana under their employment. One that is getting a lot of attention lately is Coats v. Dish Network (Coats v. Dish Network, LLC, 303 P. 3d 147 - Colo: Court of Appeals, Div. A 2013), a current case being played out in the Colorado Supreme Court. Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic man who used medical marijuana to control spasms and seizures, alleged that he was wrongfully terminated in 2010 based on his use of medical marijuana. Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000 and expanded its law to cover recreational use in 2012. He’s suing Dish Network for violating Colorado’s state law that prohibits employers from firing their employees for engaging in “legal activity” during nonworking hours and off the workplace premises. Coats argues that he’s protected under the state’s Lawful Activities Statute because he is a licensed medical marijuana patient.

Dish Network prevailed at both the trial and appellate court. The appellate court held that the plaintiff’s medical marijuana use is not protected under Colorado’s “off-duty conduct” law because his state-licensed medical marijuana use is still prohibited by federal law. Many employers are anxiously following its final ruling in the Colorado Supreme Court later this year because it will affect how organizations will approach their drug testing policies in the future.

Enacting a Drug-Free Workplace Policy

For industries who take care of vulnerable populations, such as healthcare, it is necessary for employers to apply stringent drug testing policies to safeguard their patients and staff. Employing workers with substance abuse problems could put the organization at considerable risk. As state marijuana laws continue to evolve, terminating employees for marijuana use is becoming increasingly complicated, especially for those without clear workplace drug policies. If you have not done so, review your substance abuse policy and consider how the laws in your state will affect the use of marijuana.

Need more information about how to implement drug testing within your company? Contact us today to learn how PreCheck can help you administer your drug testing program.

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