February 21, 2017

Recreational marijuana is legal; now what?

By Jim Annis, CEO

You may know it as cannabis, Mary Jane, pot, grass, 420, burnie, and many more creative names. Whatever you call it, recreational marijuana is now legal in Nevada. What does that mean exactly? That is a little more complicated. This article is not about medical marijuana, because medical marijuana has been around since 2014 and is already incorporated into most workplace drug free policies. Don’t confuse the two. Here is what we know.

If you are 21 or older, you may have an ounce or less of marijuana intended for recreational use in your possession. You must use this amount in your own home or private space, and you may not use the drug in public. Separate provisions in the statute also license the commercial production and retail sale of cannabis. Those regulations do not take effect until January 1, 2018; however, for employers, these rules matter now. How do you handle this? Our top five answers are:

  1. Ask your attorney
  2. Ask your attorney
  3. Ask your attorney
  4. Ask your attorney
  5. Ask your attorney

I am not trying to be funny. In terms of human resources, nothing major changes for the workplace, as long as your workplace currently has solid drug-free policies. However, that may not be the perception that employees have. So, that is the first thing we suggest (aside from “ask your attorney”) is that you need to prepare your employees. An employer still has the right to have a drug-free workplace policy, and if you have one, have it reviewed by your attorney (has it sunk in yet?) Publish and educate employees about the workplace policy and be sure that any misconceptions about a free-for-all are addressed right now (the legalization is in effect now). If they did not use or possess at work, employers can still take action based on reasonable suspicion of intoxication, but be educated on how to implement that action.

Employees: We repeat, this is not a free-for-all. If you have had dreams of tumbling out of a carpool van upon arrival at your workplace with a halo of smoke a la Jeff Spicoli, you may be sadly disappointed. (I like the fun tone, but most will use edibles … no smoke, no smell.) Employers can continue to have safe, drug-free workplaces. The recreational legalization does not change this. Safety is the main concern and the approach the workplace should take. Consult your HR department and/or an attorney. Based on other states who have passed similar laws, frequent questions employees ask include:

  • Can my employer still test me for pot?
  • If I am high and get hurt on the job, can I still get worker’s compensation insurance benefits?
  • Can I get fired even if I’m not high?
  • Can I drive while high when I am on company business?
  • Can I take marijuana on a plane when I am on a business trip?

Doing the right thing is our company’s motto. Employees and employers should not experience an enormous change in behavior. You both still should act responsibly. Just because it is legal now doesn’t mean the “grass is greener on the other side of the fence.”

Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Applied's COO, contributed to this article.

As seen in the RGJ.

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