In about six months, Ohioans will be able to legally use medical marijuana if they have a condition or disease that qualifies them for that.
But using it might put their jobs at risk.
Ohio’s medical-marijuana law is loaded with protections for companies that want to stick with zero-tolerance policies when it comes to drugs, including marijuana.
“Most (employers), they’re going to prohibit it for now, and they’ll let employees know they run the risk of being terminated,” predicted Justin Breidenbach, an assistant professor of accounting at Ohio Wesleyan University who studies the marijuana industry.
The state’s medical-marijuana law, on track to go into effect in September, allows people with any of 21 specified diseases or conditions to get a recommendation — not a prescription — from a doctor to obtain the drug in the form of plant material, an oil, a tincture, an edible or a patch. Under the law, it can be vaped but not smoked.
More than half of all states allow at least some use of marijuana; some have decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot. Expansion has come as the nation’s jobless rate has dropped to 4.1 percent, a 17-year low. As a result, employers routinely complain about how hard it is to find qualified applicants to fill openings — and a common disqualifier is a positive drug test.
For the most part, state-court decisions have favored employers on issues involving hiring and firing related to a state’s marijuana laws, according to the Legal Intelligencer, a legal website. Those rulings tend to emphasize that marijuana remains illegal under federal law regardless of what a state law allows.
Under Ohio’s medical-marijuana law, employers can prohibit the use of marijuana by workers, discipline workers for using the drug, and refuse to hire applicants if they use it. Workers fired for using marijuana probably wouldn’t receive unemployment benefits and, if they were hurt on the job while under the influence, probably wouldn’t receive workers’ compensation benefits either.
Each business can decide what it wants to do, said Don Boyd, director of labor and legal affairs with the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.
The state of Ohio is still formulating a policy to cover its workers, said Tom Hoyt, spokesman for the Department of Administrative Services. The state has in place a drug-free-workplace policy that, among other things, recognizes that some prescription medications might cause impairment in judgment, coordination and physical ability, and that reasonable accommodations will be made for any employee who uses a prescribed medication.
“We have some members across the spectrum,” the chamber’s Boyd said. “Some will have outright prohibition, zero tolerance. Some may allow it for (positions where there is not a safety issue). Others will treat it like other medication, though technically it’s not another drug.”
Equipment operators, truck drivers, warehouse workers, construction workers and those who work in factories are likely to be among those prohibited from using medical marijuana.
Office workers or call-center workers might be the kinds of employees who could safely use marijuana, said Thomas Rosenberger, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry of Ohio.
“If you’re a cancer patient, that’s not going to impact your ability to do an office job,” Rosenberger said.
Tom Secor, president of Durable Corp., a small manufacturer in Norwalk in northern Ohio that makes loading-dock bumpers and anti-fatigue mats, said he plans to treat medical marijuana like any other drug that could affect the safety of the company’s workers.
Workers on the factory floor who need marijuana won’t be allowed to work as long as they’re using it, he said. That’s the same rule the company has used regarding painkillers.
“This is no different than if they came up with a new (kind of) Valium. We don’t really have a big ordeal over that. It is just a prescribed drug,” he said.
Secor believes it won’t be much of an issue.
For starters, many people who will need medical marijuana are in chronic pain and probably haven’t been in the workforce anyway, he said.
For workers who need painkillers, they probably suffered injuries or were hurt in an accident, which means they aren’t at work and won’t be allowed back to work until they have recovered and are no longer using painkillers, Secor said.
An office setting could be different in that there are fewer worries about safety, he said.
“We try to accommodate in these circumstances as best we can. We need good-quality people. Good-quality people have things happen in their lives just like anyone else,” he said.
Some companies do want to be more open-minded about employees and marijuana, said Joelle Khouzam, a partner in the employment group at the Bricker & Eckler law firm.
“I had heard from a few companies that would like to be more tolerant about their substance-abuse screening,” she said in an email. “Some have said it’s because … they will have difficulty finding (or retaining) employees if they have to drug-test and weed out those who test positive; others just don’t have an issue with marijuana and don’t see it as a workplace risk.”