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Cannabis in Workplace

Workplace rules for Illinois medical cannabis patients

One of my main goals for writing these articles is to help Illinois medical cannabis patients understand all the nuances of what it means to be an Illinois medical cannabis patient. As an active member of the Illinois Medical Cannabis Community, I spend time looking through the posts, reading the many threads. I pay attention to the subjects that come up time and time again which cause confusion. Questions about workplace rules and company drug policy testing for Illinois medical cannabis patients comes up all the time. It is a subject which is confusing to many….and for good reason.

I searched online articles, hoping I would get a concise and clear answer. I was disappointed to discover that it was very confusing, so I went to one of the rockstars in the Illinois cannabis movement, Sandy Champion. Along with husband, veteran, and patient, Jim Champion, they along with several others, including Representative Lou Lang, actually wrote the legislation that eventually became the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act.

According to the Compassionate Use Act, employers should understand the following:

  1. The Compassionate Use Act specifically prohibits employers from discriminating against or penalizing a person based solely on his or her status as a patient qualified and register to receive medical marijuana.  Employers should not fire an employee or refuse to hire an applicant solely because of their use of medical marijuana or their status as a registered user
  2. The Compassionate Use Act does not have specific language that employers must offer the use of medical marijuana as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.  Although the underlying debilitating medical condition may qualify an individual for protections under the ADA, whether an employer decides to allow an employee to use medical marijuana as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA will be an individualized determination for the employer to undertake
  3. The Compassionate Use Act specifically states that employers may still enforce a “policy concerning drug testing, zero-tolerance, or a drug free workplace provided the policy is applied in a non-discriminatory manner.”
  4. The Compassionate Use Act includes an exception to its nondiscrimination provision by permitting employers to discriminate against or penalize registered users if failing to do so would put the employer in violation of federal law or cause it to lose a monetary or licensing related benefit under the federal law (e.g. owners of nuclear power plants, gas or oil pipelines, airlines and railroad, school bus drivers).

As I was reading this, my thought was that Rule #3 completely contradicted Rule #1. No wonder everybody is so confused.

Sandy explained that for those who are already hired and/or working for a company, they cannot be fired solely for their medical cannabis usage. However, if their jobs hold any risks; for instance, where you are operating heavy machinery, your medical cannabis usage can be cause for your termination. Companies are protecting themselves in cases of accidents. Companies that have a “No Drug Policy” can refuse to hire a medical cannabis patient. In all cases, medical cannabis patients ARE NOT ALLOWED TO MEDICATE while on the job.

Employers in safety-sensitive industries are more likely to have zero-tolerance policies, while those in lower risk environments may be much more open to hiring patients if they are certain that the employee is not impaired at work and only medicates outside of the workplace.

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