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Take action to prepare your company for medical marijuana legalization

The Ohio legislature and Governor Kasich pre-empted a campaign to place the legalization of medicinal marijuana on the ballot by approving legislation a couple months ago that technically will—in September—make Ohio the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana.

The legalization effort that was working to put its separate initiative—which was broader in scope—before voters this November has discontinued operations. The entirety of the legalization plan that will go into effect is required to complete the regulatory process within two years.

The good news for employers is specific protections advocated for by the Greater Cleveland Partnership/COSE were included in the legislation that passed and were not addressed in the now defunct referendum proposal. They include:
  • Employers won’t need to permit or accommodate an employee’s use, possession, or distribution of medical marijuana.
  • An employer will be able to discharge, refuse to hire, discipline or take adverse employment actions against an individual due to the use, possession, or distribution of medical marijuana.
  • Employers can still establish and enforce drug testing, drug-free workplace, and zero-tolerance drug policies.
  • Unemployment benefits will not be made available to medical marijuana users.
  • Employers can still challenge workers' comp claims if an individual’s medical marijuana use results in injury.
However, this does not mean employers can become complacent.

In the weeks and months ahead, a Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee will be named (with employer representation) that will submit recommendations to the Ohio Department of Commerce, Board of Pharmacy, and Medical Board.

The business community and general public will have an opportunity to provide comments and feedback throughout the rule making process. For updates, check Ohio’s Official Resource regularly on the Medical Marijuana Control Program.

But the most critical action an employer can take today is to review your company’s human resources handbooks and policies related to a drug-free workplace.

The Ohio State Bar Association recommends that the policy should:
  • Clearly state that marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law, and that the employer prohibits its employees from using any form of marijuana for any purpose, including for medical use, even if allowed under state law.
  • Prohibit illegal drug use, regardless of where or when the use occurs, instead of prohibiting illegal drugs “only at work,” “during work hours” or “on the premises.”
  • Define illegal drugs to include all drugs that are illegal under “federal, state or local law.”
Best practices also recommend providing training for employees, so they fully understand and comply with your company’s policies.