The recreational cannabis quandary for employers

On Behalf of | May 17, 2023 | Discrimination

Rhode Island is no stranger to cannabis legalization. In 2006, a bill legalizing medical marijuana became the law of the land. Nearly one year ago, lawmakers joined a growing number of states that legalized recreational marijuana. The Ocean State joined the collective when Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee signed the Rhode Island Cannabis Act into law.

Rhode Island legislators also extended employment protections for staff who “partake” in marijuana during non-working hours. While exceptions exist, businesses can still drug-test employees. However, limitations exist when it comes to taking adverse actions against staff and applicants. Should an employee undergo a test that detects cannabis metabolites in the system, those results do not mean that they are under the influence.

A certain level of flexibility

Employers have some leeway, particularly regarding employees whose jobs are considered safety-sensitive, where specific hazards and dangers or responsibilities exist. Other positions that apply are those essential to maintaining public welfare and safety.

Yet, even with the most stringent testing, solid proof of intoxication is still elusive. Pinpointing when an employee used cannabis is the challenge. Even the implementation of urine and hair tests may not support adverse actions against staff.

A certain level of clarity involves staff subject to collective bargaining pacts or federal law. Employers can discipline employees prohibited from using marijuana based on the collective bargaining agreements. Employers in a federal contractor capacity who suffer monetarily could punish employees who test positive for cannabis.

Rhode Island is part of a four-state compact that places limits on employers considering off-duty cannabis use. As more join the collective and other states legalize recreational marijuana, moving forward with more clarity and consistency may be the result.


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