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Proposed Bill Would Prevent Companies in Massachusetts from Firing Employees for Off the Clock Cannabis Use

Flickr @ Mari Wirta

Since cannabis first became legal as a medicine, there has been controversy on how to handle “drug-free workplace” policies. Many lawsuits later, in most cases, one cannot be fired for medical marijuana use if it isn’t happening at work. However, now another issue that comes up is recreational cannabis use. Should companies be allowed to fire someone for legal cannabis use when they are not at work?

In Massachusetts, a bill that is still being drafted aims to clarify this issue, making it illegal for companies to fire employees that use legal marijuana on their own time and treating it the same as legal alcohol consumption. It would, however,  still allow workers to be fired for using the drug at work or coming to work impaired from cannabis use – but this could be hard to prove as THC can linger in your system for weeks (or even months) after using it. There is some concern workers could be wrongly terminated because of this.

“This is not intended to be a blanket protection for people to use cannabis whenever and wherever they like,” said Senator Jason Lewis, a Winchester Democrat. “But as long as they’re not impaired and it’s not impacting their work, employers should not be able to discriminate against them in hiring or promotion, and companies certainly should not be terminating people simply because they legally use marijuana on their own time.”

There would be at least one exception to this new law. Federally run establishments, or ones with federal contracts, would still be allowed to enforce marijuana drug-testing policies both at hire and throughout employment. Since the bill is still being drafted, there is a lot that needs to be worked out, especially when it comes to how companies can accurately prove impairment at work.  

“I think most employers recognize where things stand in our society,” Lewis said. “They’re having trouble finding enough workers and they see that there are a lot of adults who choose to use cannabis. They know this is now a legal drug in Massachusetts, and that they should treat it in a similar way to alcohol.”

Luckily, many businesses have already started turning away from drug testing for cannabis use because more and more Americans are turning to marijuana over alcohol as their recreational habit, making it hard to find workers who don’t test positive. This law would only further cement the fact that with legalization needs to come other changes as well – especially when it comes to employer drug testing policies.