Maine’s new Medical Marijuana law went into effect on January 1, 2011. Employers, owners, and HR professionals are now beginning to come to grips with the realization that they have to deal with the new law. What seemed to be such a simple issue only a year ago is no longer quite that simple. Peter Lowe a HR attorney at Brann and Isaacson and I continue to do seminars across the state of Maine discussing this issue and I can tell you, there are few simple answers.
Is marijuana illegal in the United Sates? Marijuana and medical marijuana is an illegal substance at the Federal level. However, 15 states have passed laws to legalize it for specific medical uses. While medical marijuana has been legal for over 10 years in Maine, the new law, and all its regulations are in response to the recently approved voter statewide ballot initiative.
Let me give you an example of a situation that a Maine employer just faced with an employee. The employee stated: “So I smoke pot! Ya I’m high! So what! You can’t stop me because I am legit! My doctor said so! It’s legal now ya know”.
So what would you do? What can you do?
First of all, the new law states clearly that employers may impose “a restriction on the administration” of marijuana on the premises when “inconsistent with the general use of the premises”. Employers may refuse to accommodate the ingestion of marijuana in the workplace and they may prohibit employees from coming to work “under the influence”.
Ah-ha! So the owner can discipline or fire the employee since they came to work high?
Not so fast, the law is not that clear. The new DHHS regulations devised from the law state – A medical marijuana user “may not be denied any right or privilege or be subjected to any penalty or disciplinary action . . . for lawfully engaging in conduct involving the medical use of marijuana”.
As I said, there are few simple answers and it really depends on your policies, procedures, training, and previous disciplinary history. Safety in the workplace should be were you concentrate so we have been advising that employee manuals/handbooks need to be updated, supervisors need to be trained, and this issue must be taken seriously.
I do end my blog with some good news that is spelled out in the new law. It is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana or undertake any task under the influence that would constitute negligence, malpractice, or would violate any other professional standard. Finally, clarity; I think.