Medical marijuana is expected to become available at select dispensaries in Louisiana this week for patients who have a prescription for therapeutic cannabis. Medical marijuana, which was legalized in 2015 in Louisiana but has not been available until now, may be prescribed to treat a long list of diseases and disorders, such as: cancer, seizure disorders, epilepsy, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), intractable pain, autism spectrum disorder and Parkinson’s disease.
What does this mean for employers, drug-free workplace policies and drug-testing requirements?
First, it’s important to understand that marijuana is still illegal under federal law and medical marijuana usage is not protected under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under Louisiana state law, patients may only be prescribed medical marijuana that is dispensed by a registered dispensary.
Second, employees who have a prescription for medical marijuana may be required to provide the employer with proof of a valid physician’s recommendation and placement in the state’s Online Registry (some states provide a Medical Marijuana ID card but Louisiana has not done so yet). This proof should be provided BEFORE submitting to a drug test since marijuana may remain in a person’s system up to 30 days. Failure to provide proof before testing positive may be grounds for disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment, but this should be clearly stated in the company’s Employee Handbook and Drug-Free Workplace policy.
Third, just because medical marijuana has been legalized, this does not mean employees may use marijuana in the workplace. Employers may treat usage of and impairment by medical marijuana the same way that they have treated alcohol, prescription medications or illegal drugs. An employee suspected of being impaired at work may be required to submit to drug-screening and, if tested positive, may be subjected to disciplinary action, suspension or immediate termination of employment.
Fourth, in states where medical and/or recreational marijuana has been legalized, some employers have revised their zero-tolerance standard to a “no-impairment” standard and have stopped conducting random drug tests. Under a no-impairment policy, employees are prohibited from being under the influence of marijuana, illegal drugs or alcohol at work. Drug testing occurs only when the employer has a reasonable suspicion that an employee is impaired at work.
With medical marijuana now a reality, employers in Louisiana should update drug-testing policies and Drug-Free Workplace standards in their Employee Handbook. If you don’t already have written policies, this is a good time to put these in place.
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