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How Does Marijuana Legalization Affect The Workplace?

Published on: February 18, 2017

Written by: Janet Russell.

2016 became a very significant year for marijuana law reform. For years, a lot of debates regarding marijuana legalization have come up. For medical cannabis users, legalizing marijuana would mean they can finally treat their medical conditions without being worried of having to buy cannabis from the black market. On the flip side, others are against the controversial substance because of the long-term effects that can eventually ruin lives.

More than half of all the states in the U.S. have now adapted medical marijuana laws, with a fifth of the population living in communities where people aged 21 years and older can legally consume weed.

Marijuana Legalization in the United States


The use, possession, trade, cultivation and transportation of marijuana is still illegal under federal law in the United States. However, some states are have implemented their own regulations with regards to marijuana use.

2017 Marijuana Legalization State Laws

Cannabis is categorized under Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. It is because of this reason that cannabis remains illegal at the federal level. Being a Schedule 1 drug, the substance has a high potential risk for abuse and has no acceptable medical use.

The 2016 elections marked the approval of medical and recreational use of marijuana for several states, including Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. The District of Columbia has implemented marijuana legalization for both medical and recreational use, but recreational commercial sale is yet to be approved as it is still currently blocked by Congress.

Benefits of Marijuana Legalization

Is marijuana legalization a move to make things work for the better? Or will it just worsen the addiction of cannabis users? Some people are in between crossroads regarding the legalization of cannabis.

Click Here to See the Full List of Marijuana State Laws

Here are some of the advantages of marijuana legalization in the U.S.:

Government Revenue

The primary reason of legislators in legalizing marijuana is that is can be a good source of boosting the government’s revenue. Through legalization, it prevents the people from buying through the black market, which sells marijuana for up to 10 times its true value.

Instead of giving that chance for the black market to prosper, an appropriate amount can be set in the form of imposing higher taxes to eventually be used in funding projects like building of bridges, construction of parks and road repairs. In other words, taxing marijuana could rake in millions of dollars each year.

Less Pressure for Police Authorities

Legalization can help improve criminal justice and law enforcement. This means that police officers may have more time running after criminals who are committing deadlier crimes. At the same time, the space taken up by prisoners figuring in marijuana possession or sale can be given to criminals involved in heavier crimes. As a result, overcrowding within prison cells can be avoided.

Limitation on Drug Traders

Legalizing marijuana can cut off revenue stream among those who are into the drug trade. It would become less profitable for these drug traders, and therefore could save lives.

Regulation Instead of Prohibition

Marijuana use may be impossible to completely eradicate from the society at this point. However, providing control measures to regulate marijuana distribution and use may lead to a significant reduction in the number of people addicted to the substance.

While there are marijuana dispensaries that sell the substance, only a limited amount of the substance that can be bought. This could cut overall consumption, and possibly lead to lower rate of cannabis addiction.

History of Marijuana Global Distribution

Access to Alternative Medication

It is probably of great joy for medical marijuana users because marijuana legalization allows them easy access to manage their pain without having to worry that they are going to get caught.

The medical benefits of marijuana cannot be denied most especially to those who are experiencing chronic pain as well those who have Parkinson’s disease. It was found out to be very effective for pain relief and management of seizures, among others.


Disadvantages of Legalizing Marijuana

Addictive Potential

Being listed under Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, cannabis is considered to be addictive. Its effect may not be as strong as heroin or cocaine, but just the same, long term use can lead to addiction. Stopping marijuana may also lead withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and anxiety.

Risk of Accidents

The use of marijuana has a mind-altering effect. Low to moderate doses can distort perception which can cause road accidents. It is also found out that among roadside accidents, marijuana use was prevalent among those who are fatally injured.

Considering how much it can alter one’s decision making abilities, it can cause an increase in the number of people who may be driving under the influence and increase in marijuana-related accidents.

Marijuana Drug Types

Gateway to Addiction to Other Substances

Some people fear that allowing legal use of marijuana may become the gateway to much heavier substance abuse.

Child Exposure

We all want our children to be safe all the time. Unfortunately, some parents who may be into smoking weed may not be too careful in keeping them. Increasing accessibility of these drugs to children will all the more become a reason for them to slowly get hooked on the drug.

In addition, secondhand marijuana smoke poses the same – or even worse – effect than smoking pot itself. Smoking marijuana increases the likelihood of other people to suffer the same unfavorable effects as they inhaling the secondhand smoke.

Potential Medical Risks

The most terrifying effect of using marijuana is how it can cause damage to the brain. Marijuana use may cause blood vessels to constrict thereby limiting the flow of blood, especially in long-term or excessive use.

It can also cause heart problems like heart palpitations, arrhythmia and heart attack. Aside from having heart conditions, there is also a possibility of developing mental illness such as depression and schizophrenia.

Medical Marijuana Use Among Employees


Each state has its own kind of legislation with regards to marijuana use. While medical marijuana may be found to be beneficial to individuals who may be using it, there are several uncertainties for employers when they allow employees to continue with their jobs. For starters, there is a fear of increasing the risk of accidents that may affect the company as a whole.

Although medical marijuana is prohibited under federal law, it is legal in some states such as Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. Medical marijuana has been proven to be effective in treating certain medical conditions, but it requires proper assessment on its safety and use within the workplace. There are, however, potential risks which may need an employer to carefully and completely scrutinize to ensure the safety for all the employees.

Related Reading: NORML Wants to Remove Workplace Marijuana Drug Test Rules

Pointing out the advantage of cannabis use with regards to its efficacy in treating health conditions, what remains is the possibility of having higher risks of injuries as a result of marijuana intake. Some other effects of medical marijuana use in the workplace include the following:

  • Loss of productivity
  • Absenteeism
  • Increased risk on workplace injuries or accidents

The legality of medical marijuana in the workplace continues to be an endless debate as many employers want to stress the appropriateness of marijuana use during working hours, off-site use or off-hours use. The issue also includes the right amount of marijuana that is safe enough to ensure that it would not completely affect the performance of the employees.

Existing laws on certain states require a zero-tolerance drug policy in the workplace. Positive drug test results for marijuana may be held against employees unless they can provide evidence that they use marijuana to treat an existing medical condition. The time of taking the drug test may also be significant as marijuana cannot be completely flushed out from the system in a matter of days.

All federal contractors are expected to have zero tolerance drug use policies, which means no federal contractors are allowed to accommodate marijuana use.

Medical marijuana use of an employee should not be a reason for an employer to terminate the employee unless it has been proven that his marijuana use has completely taken over his right judgment and job performance. While an employee using medical marijuana may be entitled to have a position in the company, it is not to expect that these employees will be allowed to use the said substance in the workplace the same way they allow cigarettes.

An employer may assign an employee taking medical marijuana to a job that has less risks. It may also be helpful if the employer would request medical information so that the employer may be well-guided on the health condition of the employee.

There are many issues and uncertainties around the use of medical marijuana among employees. Despite this, employers must find ways to fulfill their obligations to workers in their respective companies and at the same time provide a healthy and safe environment for the employees.

Legality of Marijuana Use by Employees

Proposition 64 may have brought confusion among employees since it allows recreational use of marijuana in California. Although there is a truth to its legality, when it comes to the workplace, company policies regarding drug use may still be able to prohibit marijuana use.

According to Susan T. Daniel, founder and principal of Employee Relations Consultants and an instructor of employment law at Empire Law School, the marijuana proposition – which has now been approved into law – “does not change an employer’s right to drug testing or termination”, as reported in a news item.

Legal medical marijuana use may be needed by certain individuals and can prevent them from criminal sanctions. In California, an employer may require pre-employment drug testing and may refuse employment to any applicant found to be positive with the substance.

The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act do not approve marijuana use in the workplace. This means that the main concern of a company is towards the safety of its employees by keeping a drug-free workplace.

How Can Drug Testing Help Companies Address the Issue?


One of the most controversial issues in the workplace has something to do with employee drug testing in relation to marijuana legalization. In some companies, it has become a mandatory procedure for applicants to undergo pre-employment drug testing to ensure that they are physically and mentally fit to start a job. Without totally discriminating people who may be using marijuana (as some may just be using it to treat an existing medical condition) the employer’s concern is on how marijuana users in their workforce could affect the company.

Aside from pre-employment drug testing, employers may have the option to implement drug testing in several ways:

  • Prior to promotion
  • Scheduled drug testing: usually announced or written on the company policy on drug use.
  • Random or probable cause testing: performed on employees suspected to be reporting for work under the influence with symptoms clearly pointing to marijuana use.
  • Post-accident testing: when an employee succumbed to an injury or accident during working hours, a drug test may be done to establish the real cause of the accident.
  • Return-to-duty drug testing: An employee may need to undergo drug testing after he/she has completed addiction treatment to ensure that he is truly fir to get back to his work again.


Drug testing may mean an additional expense on the employer, but this would ensure that the workplace is safe for everyone. It benefits not just the employees as being protected from possible accidents or injuries but the company as a whole as it promotes higher productivity and better credibility.

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Marijuana legalization is made possible by lawmakers, but the brunt of its effects are felt by the general public, including the workforce. Because of this, it is important for both employers and employees to understand how marijuana legalization affects them, so that they can determine how to function effectively in their respective roles in the company.