The New Jersey Legislature has passed an expansion of the state’s medical marijuana programs that ensures greater patient access, adds eligible conditions more rapidly, removes barriers for use by minors with serious health conditions and increases supplies of the product. And for the first time, the legislation provides job protection to employees that use medical marijuana.
“Medical marijuana raises more questions than answers about drug tests and employee rights’ says John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey.
Even as New Jersey’s laws begin to shift, cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I substance under federal law and is illegal to use, even for medical purposes.
New Jersey’s medical marijuana law, however, does let individuals with a valid prescription to purchase and consume cannabis legally.
And for the first time, the legislation provides job protection to employees that use medical marijuana.
“The law makes it clear that employees can’t be under the influence [of marijuana] during working hours but the standard for taking corrective action is quite high – no pun intended” says Sarno.
The law requires the employers have strong evidence that the lawful use of medical marijuana has impaired the employee’s ability to perform the employee’s job responsibilities.
Moreover, there is no specific language regarding medical marijuana-using employees in safety-sensitive positions in New Jersey’s law. Those so-called carve-outs exist in other states.
“For now, the bottom line for employers is that they can’t take corrective action against medical marijuana users simply because they test positive to a drug test. There must be strong evidence of impairment” says Sarno.
Sarno believes that the lack of any carve-outs places employers with safety sensitive jobs at risk.
I don’t think employers want to wait until there is evidence of impairment when people are operating a fork-lift or other machinery. By then, a serous injury could be imminent.”
Compounding the problem is that marijuana drug tests are still imprecise and do not tell employers when cannabis was used or if there’s enough in someone’s system for them to be considered impaired.
Most legal experts believe that the best practice is to treat medical marijuana like other impairing — but legal — drugs like Percocet: If an employer notices significant signs of impairment or dangerous behavior, they should document it and keep that employee from doing anything dangerous, like operating machinery.
In response to these complex issues and members’ pressing needs, the Association has launched a Medical Marijuana Resource Toolkit with legal summaries and best practices.
Access the Medical Marijuana Resource Toolkit here.