Categories: HR & Employment Law | by Nicole Lopes

Track star Sha’Carri Richardson’s recent disqualification from participating in this year’s Tokyo Olympics is devastating. Richardson won the women’s 100-meter race at the U.S. track and field Olympic trials, but was suspended after her marijuana consumption was later discovered via a drug test. A few days prior to the Olympic trials, Richardson had used cannabis as a coping mechanism after hearing the news of her mother’s death. While it is both recreationally and medically legal in Oregon, cannabinoids are not allowed in athletic events, including the Olympics, per the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

 

Many believe that with the widespread acceptance of marijuana use, a policy change is long overdue for athletes and employees alike. It has also been discussed that with a potential policy change, marijuana should no longer be grouped with drugs that are used solely for performance enhancement. The effects of marijuana use are different for everyone, as are the motivating factors for its use. The unfortunate consequences that Richardson has to face due to her consumption of the drug have also stirred discussion on the complicated marijuana rules in the United States. Legislation in some states is constantly changing, making it a complicated subject depending on your area. Some states allow recreational use, some have strict medical programs, and some restrict users to only CBD, meaning laws vary greatly in different states. This also brings up a question for businesses across the nation — how do you handle employee marijuana usage?

 

While marijuana may be legal in your state, its legality may not be enough to allow you to use it while you work for certain businesses. Zero-tolerance policies demand employee testing, but policies that allow recreational use give employees freedom to partake in drug use as long as it does not affect their work. Similar to alcohol consumption, if you are not attending meetings while under the influence of substances, chances are your usage will not cause any problems. But this cannot be assumed for all types of companies, especially those that require drug screening to ensure workplace safety. 

 

Another consideration is employees who were previously convicted of marijuana possession in states where it is now legal. Some businesses are looking into a forgiveness policy for these types of convictions rather than maintaining their strict policy regarding felons. Obviously, a business cannot discern or influence state legality, but if it does happen to be legal in your company’s state, there are many different stances your company’s team can take. As a business, there may not be a right or wrong answer for this, but there are factors you can consider when constructing your company’s marijuana policy. 

Top 3 Considerations of Business Marijuana Policies

Industry Factors

When creating or revising your company’s policy surrounding marijuana, everything will depend on the type of business and industry you work in. For example, research has shown that marijuana can be linked to impaired driving ability. If your company works in transportation or your employees use company vehicles, you will need to enforce a strict policy to ensure the safety of your employees and other people outside your organization. If your business is in the CBD industry, most likely you will need to sample what you are selling. While some types of work may allow an employee to engage in marijuana usage outside of work hours, other types of work will need to build a policy to ensure usage does not impact job safety or performance.

 

Consistency

A major takeaway from what other companies are doing is to create a policy and stick with it. If there’s one thing that we can learn from how policies differ across the United States alone, it is that a consistent policy is necessary so that expectations are clear and everyone is informed. Once your policy is established, avoid making changes to it for the first few months that it is in place, which will give your team enough time to make sure it is right for your business. That being said, do not be afraid to make an exception for employees with medical needs or extenuating circumstances. Having a question and answer form or a plan in place can also be helpful to your team when making policy decisions. 

 

Stay Informed 

As we mentioned earlier, legislation and state policies are constantly changing, so it’s important to stay informed with local laws. Consider talking to your team to inform them about state policy updates and how they may affect your company policies. The most crucial part is to be open about your reasoning and give your employees access to informational resources if they have questions about drug regulations. Someone on your team may have recently moved states or come from a workplace where the policy surrounding marijauna was different, so ensuring your team is informed will eliminate any room for confusion.

 

Ultimately, your business’ policies will be largely dictated by local and regional laws. If your business spans multiple locations, it’s a best practice to put a company-wide policy in place that follows the strictest of the local laws for the purposes of clarity. As America’s policies on marijuana continue to evolve, we are hopeful that clarity and consistency across state borders is solidified, and employees and business owners alike can feel confident in understanding their rules.