CAREER DEVELOPMENT / APR. 11, 2014
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Marijuana May be Legal, But You Could Still Lose Your Job

For millions of Americans in 20 states, marijuana is a legal drug used to manage pain or deal with other issues. In two of those states, marijuana is legal for anyone to use. But what do you do when your workplace's marijuana use policy conflicts with the medical or legal protocols in your state?

It generally goes without saying that employers don't want you to be high on the job. You wouldn't come to work drunk, so it follows that you wouldn't partake in other substances that would make you impaired while working.

Unfortunately though, there is no test that can determine whether a person is currently impaired by marijuana. Instead, there are only blood tests that determine whether the person has cannabinoids -- the active substance in marijuana -- in their blood. Cannabinoids can stay in the blood for days or even weeks after use, meaning there's no way to prove an employee's claim that they only smoke on the weekends and not while on the job.

Federal law, meanwhile, is clearly on the side of the employer. It still classes marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, with a potential for danger that rivals drugs such as cocaine. In cases where employees have been fired for failing a drug test, the law has stood behind the employer.

Marijuana advocates tend to believe that state and federal laws will continue to change as public sentiment softens about marijuana. If you're dealing with a workplace drug policy that doesn't match those changing beliefs, however, what can you do?

If you're in a job that is focused on public safety or has a transportation element, there's probably not much you can do to change your workplace policies. If you're a truck driver, pilot, police officer, medical professional or a bus driver, for example, you're probably in the wrong profession to consider even occasional marijuana use. In jobs that are not safety oriented, however, you might have hope of seeing your workplace drug policy change.

The Society for Human Resource Management, a reliable resource for employers on workplace policies, suggests that all employers review their workplace drug policy and make sure it complies with any anti-discrimination laws your state might have. The SHRM also recommends that employers clearly outline company policies on impairment, what constitutes impairment, and what the employer will do should a problem arise.

If you're an employer who needs help developing a policy, the company's attorney and human resources officers are crucial -- though NORML, an organization working toward marijuana legalization for decades, has also developed a policy that employers can adopt.

At its most basic, the policy states that being impaired on the job is a no-no. The policy goes on to say that the employer will deal with evidence of employee substance abuse issues as they arise, on a case-by-case basis.

If you're an employee looking to change the policies at your workplace, you'll have to tread very carefully. Naturally, alerting an unreceptive employer to the fact that you use marijuana and want your office policy changed could result in you being targeted for drug testing or other reprimand.

Your best bet, in that case, may be to organize with your fellow workers and present a united front when advocating for change. The other option may be to simply wait to see the changes that happen over time, as more states challenge the federal laws that make marijuana illegal in the first place. That could take quite some time -- but in the meantime, you'll still have your job.

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