April 18, 2019

Communicating a Cannabis Substance Use Work Policy in a Cannabis-Legal State

by McKenzie Swisshelm


Coming to a state near you: Cannabis legalization. The cultivation, possession, and recreational use of cannabis in person’s age 21 and above has already become legal in 10 U.S. states and Washington D.C.

33 additional states and the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico also allow cannabis and CBD oil products for medicinal purposes.

More states are expected to join suit, including Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Rhode Island by 2020 because of a strong push by citizens, and increasing medical evidence that cannabis has healing properties.

However, the recreational use of cannabis is still illegal on a federal level and remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Scheduled 1 controlled substances are considered illegal, meaning employers are still free to enforce anti-drug policies in the workplace.  

Because cannabis is a scheduled 1 controlled substance, there’s a lot more talk and communication centered around this topic when it comes to workplace rules, regulations, and your business policies on cannabis use.

It’s important that whether your business is located in a cannabis-legal state or not, that you learn about communication in the workplace and how it impacts you and your employees.


Communicating A Drug Use Policy To Employees

If you’re an HR professional in any of the states that have legalized cannabis, you might be wondering how your business can protect itself from injuries and damage by enforcing an anti-drug policy. You might also wonder about the steps you should take if your state officially legalizes cannabis sometime down the road.

Take a look at some quick and easy guidelines you can implement in your workplace in no time, to ensure your workplace is a safe and thriving environment not just for your employees, but your customers as well.


1. Create a written drug-use policy

Creating a written drug-use policy that defines your company’s rules and regulations on cannabis use is one of the best ways to ensure you’re being 100 percent transparent with your employees.

This policy should cover new hire drug testing as well as disclosing if your company plans to use random drug checks after employment—including acknowledgment about what an acceptable level of cannabis use is and if a retest will be conducted.

If there are consequences of using cannabis for illegal purposes, it’s important your policy clearly outlines the disciplinary process, including the levels of discipline up to and including possible termination.

 FREE Download: CA Drug and Alcohol Testing Laws PDF

#2 - Align workplace policy with employee work tasks

In many work environments, the use of some medications has similar effects on the brain like cannabis—it creates a gentle relaxation.

If an employee's tasks don’t involve driving a vehicle, operating machinery, working face-to-face with clients, or processing large amounts of sensitive data, it could be acceptable to allow employees light use during the day.

This is something you should test, as you don’t want to lose control or feel taken advantage of by the benefits you’re giving your employees. Give your employees a one-time pass on this, and if it affects their work or behavior around the office, the privilege ends.


#3- Be aware of cannabis products

As an HR professional, it’s your job to become educated about the various cannabis-based products that are on the market now.

For example, learning the differences between hemp that are used to produce non-THC consumer products, and hemp that is grown specifically for the effects of THC.

Learning how to converse with your employees with some degree of knowledge about the cannabis industry could be a game changer for you and your business. It’s also a great idea to learn and understand the signs of continuous drug use are, and if it comes from cannabis or opiates.


#4 - Understand what medical marijuana means.

Understanding the true use and practices for medical marijuana is often a challenging area for HR to navigate. In many regions, people have access to medical marijuana, due to specific approved health issues, such as chronic pain, cancer, or mental illness.

A medical marijuana prescription can include the right to use off-duty, as well as on-duty as needed. It all depends on the specific condition and person.

If an employee is approved for the use of medical marijuana, he or she will be able to present a current medical marijuana card from a qualified physician. This often intersects with accommodation for disabling conditions and anti-discrimination laws, so treat this as so when dealing with an employee like this.


#5 - Communicate any cannabis-use policy to all employees

It is absolutely critical that all employees know of and understands where your company stands on substance use and abuse in the workplace.

Consult with the owners of the company to determine how and under what circumstances cannabis is allowed for use by employees. If you’re in a state that has legalized its use, it’s very possible the leadership at your company may support this and want to leave it off of drug testing.

If the use of cannabis products is undesirable, then communicate this, but also have a clause about how medical marijuana cases will be managed.


Remember, it’s better to be transparent when talking with employees about cannabis use. The laws are expected to keep changing over this, and therefore you must be adaptable as an HR leader.

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McKenzie Swisshelm

McKenzie Swisshelm is the Marketing Manager for Greenleaf HR and Worklogic HR. She produces effective content like a fifth-year wizard but with a knack for strategic marketing, crafting digital strategy and, of course, Charms. In more wanky marketing muggle jargon, her specialties include setting metrics and reporting systems and then refining all of the above to impact an organization’s core business objectives and drive top line growth.

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